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Reading is the Training Ground for Becoming a Better Writer


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I'm constantly learning new writing lessons from the books that I read. In fact, one of the main reasons I read is to learn. Over the past two months, I've read approximately 14 books. As I read (or listen to the book through my Audible app on my phone), my mind doesn't stop analyzing.

For example, I read Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King (a story about Margaret Queen of Scotland) and soaked in the history. The medieval historical details were exquisite giving me inspiration for my own medievals. I was also impressed by the characterization; each character was distinct with traits unique to the middle ages.

And finally I took away a lesson on the subtly of developing and showing character emotions. Yes there are times when we need to name the emotions our characters are feeling. But when we have our characters behave in a certain way that subtly brings the emotion to life, it has greater power to tug the readers' hearts.

Since today is the official release of An Uncertain Choice, I asked writers who've pre-read the book to share some of the writing lessons they learned while reading it.

Tricia Mingerink said: "I learned how to handle a YA love story with multiple interests without turning it into a love triangle. You develop all three of the guys very well. Even though I had a favorite for Rosemarie, it wasn't because the other guys were undeveloped or mean. All three were nice, and I don't see that in YA books very often."

Kim Moss, author of Leaving Nelson, said: "I've learned that a love story doesn't have to just be a love story. It can include action and mystery as well. Not only that, but the character that's most right for your main character may not be the one that's necessarily perfect--but the one that's perfect for her. One that challenges her and pushes her out of her comfort zone. Along with that, I absolutely love the way you close out your chapters with some type of angst or with a word picture that makes the reader NEED to turn the page."

Jennifer Smith said: "One thing that stood out to me--other than the engaging plot and fun characters--was Rosemarie's likeability. I entered a contest once where one of the judges said she wasn't sure if she liked my main character or not. Ever since, I've been paying special attention to how other authors make their characters likeable."

Caitlyn Santi, author of Surrender Falls, said: "The biggest writing lesson I learned was how to better illustrate my characters' faith by showing rather than telling. I've always believed that actions speak louder than words and An Uncertain Choice taught me how to show the reader what matters most to my characters by their actions and how they treat others rather than just telling."

Joleen Graumann said: "You opened my eyes to a new perspective about writing in 1st person. A lot of times it can be difficult to express the thoughts/emotions/growth of other characters in the book solely from the heroine's POV. I loved having those few chapters with the hero's POV too--especially the 1st one when we're not sure which knight is speaking. LOVED it! Such a creative technique!"

Rachel Rittenhouse, author of Discovering Hope, said: "One writing lesson was Jody's ability to create convicting characters that can be learned from and make you want to delve into their thoughts. Rosemarie and all three of the knights had a way of drawing you in and I was almost sad when only one knight could be chosen because I formed a connection with them all!!"


My encouragement for all writers is this: Read, read, read. And while you're reading, never stop learning. Reading is the training ground for becoming a better writer. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that reading (and analyzing as you read) is one of THE most important things writers can do to grow.

Of course, voracious reading doesn't automatically turn us into brilliant writers. But there's something about exposing ourselves over and over to a wide variety of writing styles and techniques that helps us learn the components of good story-telling (and also perhaps what doesn't work).

In the life of an author, every book release is always a big day. But this book birthday is extra special because it's my first-ever YA. To celebrate the release today, I'm giving away a copy of An Uncertain Choice here on my blog! So make sure to fill out the Rafflecopter form for a chance to win!

Also, I'd love for you to join in the Noble Knights Blog Tour over the next month for even more chances to win the book and learn about the characters and setting of An Uncertain Choice. The FIRST STOP is here! For a schedule of the rest of the blog tour, stop by my Events Page.




a Rafflecopter giveaway

What about YOU? What writing lesson (or otherwise) have you learned from a recent book you've read?
  

59 comments:

  1. I haven't had as much time as I'd like for reading fiction lately—I'm working on my Master's in education (along with writing my first novel and about a billion other things-including being laid up with a broken leg) at the moment, and just completed a class in the Political and Ethical Foundations of Education. We read The Shame of the Nation (a nonfiction book about inequality of access in poor inner city schools) as well as the textbook (Political and Legal Foundations for Becoming a Teacher). While my intent when I complete my degree is to teach at the college level, these books confirmed my initial thought that I never want to work in public schools! Also, as a parent of a third grader (who attends public schools) they brought up some issues that could affect my daughter's schooling. Hopefully the next time you ask a question about recent reading, I will have had a chance to relax with some lighter reading! :)

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  2. I recently read Bob Sorge's The Fire of Delayed Answers. I am learning how persevere while in the wilderness.

    I pinned the giveaway graphic and subscribed to the newsletter.
    psalm103and138[at]gmail[dot]com

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  3. Have always loved your historical novels. When I read (hoping to win a copy) I will blog about your first YA novel, then share it with my granddaughter. As a former school librarian, I like to promote quality YA lit.

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  4. I recently read A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. I absolutely loved it!
    It deals with a lot of issues and I think there are a lot of lessons to be learn from it.
    The lesson I learned from this amazing book is not to fear. It's important to stand up for our faith even when sometimes you feel a little bit afraid to talk about it. We have a mission to spread the Word and God is always with us, so we have no reasons to fear :)

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  5. How to describe a fight scene without play by play narration so it isn't boring!

    I have a US address but rafflecopter might show my location outside US because I’m doing a semester abroad

    thank you so very much :)

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  6. When I read a book that really hooks my interest, I forget all about analyzing the writing style. I just know I love it. Sometimes a turn of phrase catches my attention, and I may write it down.

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  7. I love to read, anything and everything, and sometimes I get so sucked into the story that it's hard to step back and put the 'writer' cap back on. Those stories are amazing! But I have to say, I've learned a lot about writing in books that I do have trouble sinking into. I just finished a trilogy that left me unsatisfied (which is very rare), and not because it didn't have a happy ending, but that the happy ending came too easily for how much difficulties they had to go through. I've learned there has to be a balance between the bad and the good, and there's wasn't much good during the main middle of the book and way too much good at the end. A good book has a good balance, and the heroes have to fight for their happiness, in a good way.

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    1. I agree. I've seen that myself sometimes. From the perspective of a non-American reader of a genre dominated by Americans, I believe there is some issue with the profilieration of books set in Britain/Europe by authors who may never have been to those countries.

      I think its difficult to write about a culture or society that is totally different from one's own without absorbing oneself in in entirely. As a result, I do find some books tend to reflect certain prejudices,attitudes or assumptions that don't fit in with the setting of a novel.
      For instance, the assumption that all monarchs are absolute monarchs, and so having a Regency in which the Prince has something akin to absolute powers over law and government- and the idea that saying a word against him could get you killed. Yet this was not the case at all, as the British monarchy is a constitutional, limited monarchy, not an absolute monarchy- and by the 1800s the Prime Minister and Parliament had more power than the King....

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  8. I've been an ardent reader ever since my mother took my to the library when I was four years old. I have always loved books. But since I started writing on my own, I began reading in a different light. I read to see how the author breathes life into their characters. I think we all draw on life experiences to convey expression in our writing. But to dig deeper, into the soul of the character is what I've learned. I've read many books by famous authors that left me dry. Yet I can pick up a book by a new author and find myself totally enraptured in the book. Basically can't put it down. And that's the kind of writing I desire to do.

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  9. I am not sure what I have learned about writing from reading lately.... I finally convinced myself that the first draft doesn't need to be perfect! Just write!
    I pinned the Graphic! Thanks for the giveaway!

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  10. I usually try to read a series in order, but recently read a third book in a series and had not read the first two. I ended up following and enjoying the book just fine, which is sometimes not possible when skipping books. I like to pay attention to the way authors incorporate info from their earlier books in a series. It is a fine line, I think, because you need to provide enough information to remind a reader of what happened or bring someone who hadn't read the book up to date, while not overwhelming a reader with information that seems more like facts meant to catch them up. So, you have to catch them up without it seeming like you are catching them up! ;-) Brittany McEuen

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  11. I was reading Esther Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt (in celebration of Purim, which happens to start Wednesday night) and I learned that writers (for everything) tend to romanticize things. Like everything. It was interesting to say the least.

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  12. The last book I read was "Gossamer" by Lois Lowry. Lessons to be learned from it... I would say something I learned, is I feel like it's a perfect example of how telling, instead of telling kills the magic of the book. The first several chapters were great because I was intrigued. But then in like chapter three or four the author just dumped an explanation and I lost interest because it was so cut and dry all of a sudden.

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  13. One book I read recently had way too much interior thought for my tastes. It came across as preachy to me because the character was always learning a lesson and telling it to the reader.

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  14. Paper Hearts....show love even in small things. Look for love in small things. Loved the book!

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  15. The most recent book I read was Would-Be Wilderness Wife and it taught about trusting God rather than trying to control your circumstances.

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  16. I have just begun a story written in the voice of a dog. It is part Fiction, part Non-fiction and I have mixed emotions. Since I love dogs, I intend to give it my all. Lesson learned? Try not to get in a reading Ruth!
    look forward to reading An Uncertain Choice. Thank you for this giveaway.
    Connie
    cps1950 at gmail dot com

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    1. Sorry, auto correct kicked in. Reading RUT.

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    2. I love learning a new bit of history whenever I read a historical novel (of which I read a GREAT many). Recently I read Anna's Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher, and I realized that many assumptions I'd made about Amish history were false. Then, of course, the author's note only sent me questing for more info, and to the internet I went for an even deeper look. I love a story that sends me searching for more!

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    3. I like historical fiction- but I tend to be have reservations about 'learning' history from it. Its not designed to educate, and if there are inaccuracies, they can 'rub off' on the reader who might consider them to be correct.
      A good example is how 'Braveheart' influenced people's perceptions, and some still believe a lot of what was in the movie, even though most was totally inaccurate....

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  17. Recently, I've been focusing my attention on how the authors are writing what I like to read so that I can improve my own writing. So I am learning what does and doesn't work. Thanks for the giveaway Jody. I am looking forward to reading this one!

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  18. I just finished reading your newsletter and I want to applaud you for your clearner reading for our young. Even I at age 60 am frustrated in finding cleaner reading and how women do not want to be beaten during lovemaking. That is why I followed another authors lead to get Amazon to have a clean catagory to chose books from. I review most books I read (Just short reviews) and I am constantly frustrated at what is considered enjoyable. So Keep up the good work. Our young need authors like you.

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  19. Lesson learned, or still learning.... I need to stop hiding and live the way God wants me to.

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  20. I have a problem with stage direction and I've been studying it in the books I read lately. Right now, I'm reading Mary Stewart's The Hollow Hills.

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  21. I have learned to be content with what I have and what comes my way. I may not have control over the events in my life but God does and He knows what He is doing! He will always be there for me even if I may not feel Him. He will never leave me nor forsake me! :)

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  22. I am so pleased to see the release of a wonderful ya book of clean reads. So many books are ya themed and are no better than adult inapproiate books. I like the feelings I get with reading your books, a great story that is not lacking in any way because it is a clean read.

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  23. Congrats on your book. What I learned is that to trust God in everything that you do.

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  24. If there is character that you grow to love, you will go anywhere, and forgive anything with that character.

    Looking forward to reading this book!

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  25. A lesson I learned from reading Tried and True by Mary Connealy is the importance of letting friends help, especially when you have some unresolved difficult memories or issues. Just talking about it with a trusted friend can help.

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  26. I've learned a lot about conveying emotions through characters in ways that are real- so that readers can relate. I think that is so important! Readers need to be able to connect with the characters in a book. By bringing out emotions that readers also feel- like guilt, or lack of self-confidence, or awkwardness when dating, or uncertainty about God's plan for your life, a writer will be able to reach the readers in an awesome way. When I am reading, I like to look at a character and think, "Oh wow. That is totally something I would say do, think, etc.

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  27. Congratulations on your new release!

    I'm always in the middle of a book, and I always learn something new about writing!

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  28. I especially agree with the statement above about how the story doesn't have to be just about love; it can be about other things. I read a novel once where the entire plot revolved around the narrator's singular quest to find a boyfriend; her work, her family, and her friends were basically on the sidelines of her quest, and that made the story as a whole (as well as the character) less well-rounded and interesting.

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  29. Unfortunately, I am going to be "one of those people" and use the Bible. I am learning that, thought it feels like I am being drug through life just grasping at the hem of Jesus to make it, that's not true. He is holding me in His arms. He's not leaving me dragging behind. <3

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  30. Hello Jody. I will start by saying I am not a writer. But, a big reader. A lover of books. Hope I can win yours and intend to do your Blog Hop.
    Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

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  31. I have learned a lot about the Amish reading the books by Beverly Lewis.
    The old order shuns a person of their community if they leave after they join the church. That's why they have a Rumspringa, wher the kids after sixteen can go into the English world and do what ever they want to do without punishment. They then come back and join their community church if they say they will stay an Amish. But if they leave after that then they are shunned, where no one in the church district will even look at them. If they want to come back they have to apologize in front of all the church members and if they agree only then can they continue in the church. I read this in The Shunning by Beverly Lewis, author.
    Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

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  32. Reading is a great way to learn the craft of writing, what works and what doesn´t. It is also motivating. Since moving to Spain I haven´t had much time to read (or write) but that will change once we are settled. I´m pleased readers have learned so much from your fabulous books.

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  33. Keepers of the Covenant.. I learned a lot about the Jewish people.
    dkstevensneAToutlookD oTCo M

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  34. I'm listening to At Home in Mitford again - taking away some great lessons about creating unforgettable characters. I love that you're writing for young adults!

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  35. I learned that good supporting characters are just as important as the main ones

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  36. I recently finished reading "Eternity: Immortal WItches, Book 1." The plot itself was split into two parts, the first occurring 300 years ago and the second part occurring today. I was really put off by the female protagonist's sudden change in personality when she found her true love; she changed from a self-sufficient, strong-willed, focused person to a whiny, clingy, almost helpless female. It really made me re-examine the way I write my characters. There is a difference between being connected to someone you love and being helpless and clingy, and I want to be sure my female protagonists don't cross that line as their relationships develop.

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  37. Dialog has always been the hardest part of writing for me so I have been focused greatly on conversations when I read. Over the past few months I have learned how to make interesting dialog that isn't boring and shows emotion.

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  38. Great post! I completely agree that I learn from all of the books that I read as well and it helps me to improve my writing.
    So exciting that you have a new book for a new audience, but I still want to read it too! :)

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  39. I have learned to just relax and love God. Not to worry so much. The Bible tells us to love Him and love others. Not get hung up on every little thing.

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  40. I recently read Making Marion by Beth Moran, and it had some powerful reminders of how imperative forgiveness is. I also learned some British lingo. I may not be young adult anymore, but I can't wait to read your newest book!! Every other has been incredible.

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  41. First off, a huge congrats on the release of your first YA novel !!! I can't wait to read it. The Vow is already one of my favorites! :)

    I've just recently finished reading Sword of Forgiveness by Debbie Lynne Costello. The main lesson I learned was trust. And I never realized how much that lesson would impact me! Truly amazing.

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  42. The most recent lesson I got from a book was a couple months ago when I read Francine Rivers' "Redeeming Love." I was reminded and understood from that book that true love constantly pursues the person they love and never gives up! God's love was truly shown and put on display!

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  43. I most recently learned from Julie Klassen's book "Secret of Pembrooke Park" that trust is vital to any relationship and good communication is key to a lasting friendship as well as many other lessons from this great book!

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  44. I am always learning as I read. I don't have anything specific that I can list, but my writing has changed as I go!

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  45. I mostly read Christian historical fiction. It seems that the majority of books I've recently read have stressed that God has a plan. It may not be the plan I foresee, but His ways are higher and greater than mine and I need to trust Him. Those are always great reminders!

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  46. First of all: I've seen An Uncertain Choice around the interwebs for a while now, and it looks really good. :) It's definitely on my TBR list.

    Second: one thing I've learned lately from reading fiction . . . I guess maybe that the best way to make a difference in a person is to get to know them.

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  47. I pinned your picture and I love Christian historical fiction.

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  48. I thought I commented, but not seeing it. :-( I Loved An Uncertain Choice and hoping there is more to read about Rosemarie and Derek. :-) One of the things that I learned from this book is not to be a "people pleaser". Don't make decisions, especially major ones, to please others. Pray and listen and then act. Continued blessings Jody! (I will be writing my review and posting soon)

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  49. A lesson from a book I've read recently: First impressions while important can sometimes be misleading.

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  50. So many books I love and have learned lessons from...but my most recent lesson I learned was from Francine Rivers' book "The Atonement Child." From that book I learned that it is important to have people around that you trust and support you and most importantly point you to Christ and to His truth. The characters in this book wanted the girl to get an abortion even though she did not feel right about it. Only one true friend encouraged her to listen to the Lord and not those around her. Great book that I recommend for everyone to read!

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  51. I have a NetGalley ARC, so I'll leave the giveaway for others, but congratulations on your release, Jody!

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  52. I've just finished Francine Rivers' newest release, Bridge to Haven. I learned as an author that my main character can be really messed up and come back to life. Also to show the depth of my characters in their actions, not only their words, thoughts and prayers.

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  53. One of my favourite novels is 'I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince' by Rosanne E Lortz. It is essentially about the life, career and spiritual journey of a Young Knight in the Hundred Years War, and explores his friendship with some famous historical figures.
    There is an element of Romance both for him and his master, but its not the central thread of the story. The protagonist sort of has to grow up a but before he gets the girl.....

    So I certainly agree that reading makes better writing. Knowing what's out there, what works, what's popular, or maybe what style to emulate.
    For instance I'm currently reading a Robin Hood story written by a historian that is quite different form the usual- much more about the political and social/legal aspects of the time- but its a fascinating representation of the period that really works- and a style I would emulate.

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  54. So when will the winner be announced for your new book's giveaway?

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