Reading While You Write

When I first started to write, I read Lawrence Block’s books on writing. One thing Block said in describing how he writes is that he read no fiction while he wrote. He didn’t want to be influenced by John D. McDonald or Donald Westlake while he was creating Matthew Scudder.

It makes sense. One of the aborted works that went into Holland Bay had been written shortly after I discovered The Wire on HBO. In that early version of the story, a detective named Kagan runs afoul of his captain, who makes it no secret he hates the guy. I had a scene where Kagan is sent to the worst possible posting for him. I was proud of that scene right up to the moment I rewatched the Season 1 finale of The Wire and heard Rawls say to McNulty, “So, Jimmy, where don’t you want to go?”

I had copied the entire scene. Aaaaargh!

Television is like reading, and you have to be careful. Lately, I’ve been watching the Marvel shows on Netflix. Daredevil and Luke Cage are just over the line into superhero fiction. Were I to write a follow-up to Holland Bay, I’d have to make sure I don’t watch those shows. After all, the only difference between Detective Jessica Branson and Jessica Jones is that Branson does not have super powers.

I’ve not had a problem with reading crime fiction or science fiction while writing either. During the writing of Warped, I read Peter F. Hamilton’s first novel while reading CJ Cherryh’s Brothers of Earth while Broken Skies was in draft. Did it affect them? Maybe, but only because I would spot some things I would use. I went into Broken Skies and Warped knowing my stories well.

But I read other things as well. My audiobooks are almost all biographies and history. I also read classics, crime fiction, motivational works, and the canon of Stephen King. So in a way, I am fishing for influences rather than avoiding them. But I’m cross-pollinating subjects and genres. Makes for some great storytelling when you do it right.

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