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Using Other Books as a Study in Writing Technique

We learn a lot from observing others. I’ve often thought the most value you can get from a critique group isn’t the critique on your own work but listening to others talk about the work of others. I’ve learned more from the rejections and revisions editors have done on my clients’ books than I ever did as an editor myself. As a writer, re-reading the books you love for technique and style can go a long way in learning how to write your own book.

BEARTOWN  by Fredrik Backman was a study in technique for me. I was blown away by how Backman created suspense and tension before anything actually happened. I was wowed by the layers he wrote into both the plot and the characters and how he dropped bits and pieces of information that kept you guessing and reading.

Every author should be reading and studying the writing of others. I do it to see how I can be both a better editor and agent and I think each book I read, especially those outside the genre I represent, makes me better at my job.


Category: Blog



  1. I had this conversation the other day. For years I have used Stephen King’s IT as a study guide for developing characters.

    The first time I read IT I felt like I knew these characters and I remember asking: How did he do that. He made me care about these people and as an author that is what we aim for.

  2. Rereading a favorite book after taking a writing class helps reinforce the learning. You can see the real craft involved. This is especially true for understanding passive verbs vs. active and the show vs. tell we all stumble with as we learn the craft.

  3. This is what we are doing on my MA, we have a set book to read each week for each module. One of my modules this term is voice, then we spend an hour discussing the voice and how it’s used in the book. We then spend an hour looking at work looking at work a couple of the group has written. We take it in turns to upload about 1000 words.
    I’m don’t know if I’m excited or nervous for this week, our set books were decided before my tutor was employed at the university and it’s her book which is a wonderful opportunity. But it’s also my first feedback, and I uploaded the start of my new magical realism.

  4. I study Diana Gabaldon for a variety of reasons. You read the first time for pure pleasure, then you go back and start dissecting to see how it’s done. As she says, you can learn everything about how a writer creates by reading their work. It’s all right there in front of you.

    I read James Lee Burke to get my creativity flowing, especially regarding descriptions.

    Larry McMurtry for dialogue and characters.

  5. I completely agree with this post. There was a time many years ago that I had stopped reading fiction to focus on just writing it. It didn’t work. I’ve noticed a big improvement in my style and ability to describe the scene and characters after reading other books.

  6. As an editor I’m completely blown away by authors who submit their novel and tell me they don’t read fiction. How can you write if you don’t read. And yes, books like On Writing by Stephen King offer a wealth of helpful info but his novels, like The Stand offer so much more.

  7. If you ever get an answer to that Krystina, I’d love to hear it.
    I read anything magical, paranormal that kind of thing. I’ve just started writing magical realism for the first time, I know it’s still going to take months of reading mr books before I’m going to be able to say “I think it should look something like this”
    If you’re not reading, you have nothing to reference, so how … nope just confusing myself I’m not going to think about it I’ll still be up at midnight.

  8. I agree, just read everything you can. Years ago someone introduced me to Louis L’ Amour. Was hooked. Later I gave my Louie’s (64) to a twelve year old boy, long before Harry Potter. Then I decided to write learn how to write. Easy. Lol. Took a couple of classes. Bought a few books. But for me it was John Grisham’s books. I can still read and re-read some of them. The Last Juror, I have 2 copies of it. My study copy’s torn apart with notes, a rainbow of highlights and sticky notes. Mario Puzo’s Godfather looks worse. It’s taped and stapled too, lol! Read, read and pass it on; if you didn’t use it to take apart.

  9. This is probably weird, but I’ve found I struggle if I read a book because it’s one “every author should read”. When they are that good it has a negative affect on me (as I said, weird). I find I do much better if I find good books organically. Like Julie Weathers said above, read for pleasure and then think about the writing.

  10. Seriously it’s wonderful. I manage to understand these tips for writing just fine, and still, I can’t properly put more than two words together while I start writing.

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