Anything you read helps your work in progress

Sometimes I choose what I read carefully.

For example, I read H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury when I worked on my first dystopian novel. My assessor got me to read Joe Keenan as she wanted me to hone in on the farcical elements of my first book.

But when I’m reading for pleasure, whatever style that author uses teaches me something. It can confirm aspects of my current work in progress, or on occasion show me what not to do.

I’m currently reading Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train.

I’m not writing a crime novel or a thriller, but elements have helped me with my contemporary piece set in the 1990s.

Strangers on a Train – Setanta Books

It is my second third-person narrative, and my first in third-person limited. I’ve sometimes felt uncertain in passages which go into great lengths telling you how a character feels at that moment. It goes against my golden rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. But reading a master storyteller has made me realise it’s not such a bad thing.

It can be overdone, of course.

My current work in progress is also the first that has grown in word count in a way my others haven’t. Usually I get to a stage I’m really happy with but fall below the required length for a novel. So, I develop other aspects of the story like a minor storyline, or add scenes that tell us more about a character. Those elements are then further developed so they don’t feel like unwelcome additions to the overall story, and are hinted in other already well developed scenes in the book.

In this current work it has given me more to edit.

But this has been a good thing. I’m playing. I’m allowing myself to overwrite rather than trying to be as precise as I can in earlier drafts. I’m letting my words flow more, then tidying them up as I edit.

Sure, I usually do this, but with my inexperience in third-person narratives, I’m learning a new skill. I’m focussing on telling how this character feels at this moment in too many words and as poetically as I can, then I cut it back, keeping the phrases that show more than tell.

So, reading this particular crime novel has somehow allowed my inner perfectionist to take a back seat until he’s needed. And that going to great lengths in explaining what a character is going through, is fine.

It works in Strangers On A Train. I just have to make sure I do it as effectively.

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