Why Difficult Computer Games Are Good For Your Creativity

Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this before, I thought that I’d look at why difficult computer games are good for your creativity – since, although I’m not sure when or if I’ll review either of these games, I’ve occasionally been playing two games that – whilst very different from each other – have one important thing in common.

I am, of course, talking about “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” (1992) and “Devil Daggers” (2016). And, yes, these two games have more in common than you might think – even if it might not seem like it at first glance:

Two images beside each other. One is from a bright, cartoonish 2D platform game showing an adorable alien creature in a forest. The other is from a first person shooter game, showing a hand pointing towards darkness, skulls and blood. The text below them reads "And, yes, these games have more in common than you might think. Let's talk about difficulty, practice and failure"

Screenshots from “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” (1992) and “Devil Daggers” (2016), two surprisingly similar games.

Even though both game look very different from each other and are in different genres, they handle difficulty in the same way 🙂 In both games, there is no “easy” mode and you can expect to fail very very often. But, far from being a flaw, this is actually part of the fun.

In order to make any progress, you have to practice playing them. You have to persevere. When you start a new game or a new level, there is an extremely high chance that you won’t make it to the other end. But, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting a little bit further than you did last time and then doing this enough times that it becomes second-nature to you, allowing you to gradually make more and more progress. These games are hard. And this is really good for your creativity.

But, why?

Well, you’ve probably guessed already, but it is because they not only teach the importance of practice (which is essential for making art, writing fiction etc…) but – even more importantly – they make you more comfortable with failure. Although failure might sound like the last thing that you should be comfortable with if you want to be an artist, a writer etc… It is an essential part of being these things.

Take a look at your favourite novels, comics, albums, movies etc.. They all exist because of failure. They all exist because, at some point in the past, someone with very little experience or practice wanted to be an artist, writer, musician, film-maker, actor etc… And, the very first time they tried this, they failed. They probably failed the second, third, fourth etc.. I’m sure you get the idea. The important thing was that, after every failure, they picked themselves up and gave it another try. They knew that it might take a lot of failures but, eventually, they would get it right.

All creativity requires determination. It requires failing and then trying again. Not only that, it requires being ok with failing and being willing to experiment. And this is another thing that difficult computer games can teach us. After all, if you fail several times in a row at a computer game, then you’ll usually want to try a slightly different strategy. Even in a game like “Devil Daggers” – where there is no way to “win” – you’ll still want to try different tactics in order to survive for a few seconds longer or get a few more points.

Needless to say, this attitude is also one that you’ll want to take when you’re creating stuff. For example, if your novel seems to have stalled or is going nowhere, then you need to take action and do something different. Whether this involves changing your plans for the story, rewriting part of it or even starting a different novel project, the important thing is to think about what to improve, to do it and – above all- to keep writing.

But, more than all of this, difficult computer games are good for your creativity because they teach you the importance of the process, rather than the goal. Although “winning” is a side-effect of lots of practice, the real fun of a difficult computer game is getting there. It is those many nights where, knowing that you probably won’t win, you play anyway because you want to see how far you will get and because you enjoy the experience of the game itself. And if you take this attitude towards your writing practice, art practice etc… then it’ll be a lot less of a chore.

Of course, the massive irony of all of this is that time spent getting better at playing challenging computer games is probably time you could be spending practicing your writing, art etc… Still, if you want to develop a better attitude towards learning a creative skill, then try playing some fiendishly difficult computer games. Just not for too long though.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Horror Fiction And Expectations – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d look at one of the best ways to make your horror fiction a bit creepier or more disturbing. I am, of course, talking about playing with your audience’s expectations. Like how a joke is funny because the punchline is different to what the listener expects to hear, horror fiction tends to be at it’s most frightening when the audience expects one thing but finds something else instead.

This was something that I ended up thinking about whilst reading the horror novel that I plan to review tomorrow. I am, of course, talking about Guy N. Smith’s 1983 novel “Accursed” (mild-moderate SPOILERS ahoy).

If you’ve never read British horror fiction from the 1980s, then it is a gloriously fun genre that is often wonderfully over-the-top (even down to the gloriously melodramatic cover art and titles). This is a type of horror fiction that is gloriously lurid, gleefully cynical, ridiculously ultra-gruesome and often filled with all sorts of melodramatic monsters and other such things.

When it is at it’s best, it is like heavy metal music in book form or some kind of cheesy late-night “video nasty”. It is a really cool and just generally fun genre (see Shaun Hutson’s 1986 novel “Deathday” for a good example) but, to the experienced horror fan, it is very rarely actually scary.

Yet, whilst reading part of Smith’s “Accursed”, I actually found myself feeling – if not scared – then at least slightly disturbed. On the surface, the novel contains all of the things you’d expect from a 1980s horror novel – a melodramatic title, some cynical cold war-era social commentary, a fairly “realistic” setting and even a cursed amulet. Yet, this novel actually evoked feelings of fear in me. But, why?

Well, it’s mostly because the parts I’ve read at the time of writing contained some very different types of horror to the ones that you’d typically expect from a British 1980s horror novel. Instead of buckets of blood or a “scary” monster, the novel instead focuses a lot more on things like psychological horror, ominous paranormal forces, character-based horror, a feeling of claustrophobia, religious/mythical horror etc… (eg: the type of genuinely scary stuff that modern horror novels use all the time). And it is scary because it is something that you wouldn’t typically expect from a horror novel of this type.

But, although this is a fairly large-scale example (requiring background knowledge of one genre, in one place, in one decade) of how playing with audience expectations results in scarier horror fiction, the same thing can work in all sorts of more subtle ways too.

For example, a sudden scene of gory horror can be genuinely shocking in a novel that – up until this point – has focused on more subtle or psychological types of horror. Another example might be a sudden scene of genuinely disturbing tragic horror or character-based horror in a cheesy ultra-gruesome zombie novel. I could go on, but suddenly introducing a new and unexpected type of horror (as long as it fits into the context of your story) can be a great way to frighten more jaded or complacent readers.

Ironically, this sort of thing actually works best in non-horror novels. A great example (moderate SPOILERS ahead) is Lee Child’s 2015 novel “Make Me“.

For the most part, this is a typical suspense/detective/action thriller novel with the only nods to the horror genre seemingly being the gradual introduction of some darker and bleaker subject matter. But, it is mostly just a typical thriller novel… until you reach the ending. There are entire horror novels that are less horrifying than this short part of the novel. And it is such a brilliantly, unforgettably horrifying ending because the reader doesn’t expect to see proper horror fiction in a modern mainstream thriller novel 🙂

But, you can scare your audience by playing with their expectations in other ways too. One good way to do this is through tone and style – for example, a scene of unsettling paranormal dread will actually be scarier in a novel that uses a modern, informal and fast-paced narrative voice than it will be in a novel that uses a very formal, gothic and slow-paced style of writing. With the latter, you actually expect this sort of thing to happen just from the writing style alone. So, it is less surprising than it would be in a novel that uses a more modern style.

Of course, there are lots of other ways you can play with your audience’s expectations (and the best way to learn them is to read lots of horror, and non-horror, fiction etc…) but audience expectations are something that is always worth thinking about if you want to make your horror story a bit scarier.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Mix First And Third Person Perspective Narration

Although, ideally, you should stick to just one perspective (eg: first-person or third-person) in your story, I’ve read a few modern novels over the past year or so that combine both perspectives in various ways. This is one of those things that is tricky to get right, but can work really well when it is handled properly.

In short, the main thing to remember is that you should clearly signpost the perspective changes. If you are jumping from one perspective to the other, then the reader needs to be able to understand and adapt to this quickly, so that it doesn’t become too confusing. One of the best ways to do this is to use italic text for one of the perspectives and normal text for the other.

For example, both Tess Gerritsen’s 2002 detective thriller novel “The Apprentice” and Dana Fredsti’s 2012 zombie thriller novel “Plague Town” use a variant of this technique, whilst also setting the two types of narration apart via slight changes in the narrative voice too. This makes the jump from one type of narration to the other feel a lot less jarring.

On a side-note, one interesting variant of this that I’ve seen in at least a couple of thriller and/or horror novels is to include short italicised first-person asides (typically no longer than a sentence or two) in the middle of a passage of third-person narration. Since these are fairly brief and are often used for comedic or dramatic effect, they can actually work quite well.

So, italic text is a great way of signposting changes in perspective since it is immediately visible to the reader and allows them to clearly tell which type of narration to expect.

If you don’t want to use italics, then make sure that each chapter of your story only uses one perspective. Not only does a chapter change get the reader ready for something different (so, the perspective change is a bit less jarring), but it also means that the reader has a bit more time to get used to a particular perspective.

You can also use other forms of signposting too – such as in Tade Thompson’s 2019 sci-fi novel “The Rosewater Insurrection“, where each chapter heading contains the name of the character it is focusing on. This means that you’ll soon easily be able to tell which chapters are in first or third person perspective based on which character name appears. Since two characters consistently use first-person narration, and the other characters’ chapters usually use third-person narration, then this is fairly easy to follow after a while.

In addition to all of this, you also need to have a good reason for including perspective changes. For example, Tess Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” includes first-person perspective segments because they give the reader a chilling glimpse into the twisted mind of one of the serial killers that the detective is trying to catch, adding extra suspense and horror to the story. Likewise, the third-person segments in Dana Fredsti’s “Plague Town” lend an extra sense of size and scale to the novel’s zombie apocalypse. In both of these novels, the perspective changes serve a valid practical purpose that adds something to the story and allow the author to use the best elements of both perspectives.

In Tade Thompson’s “The Rosewater Insurrection”, the reasons for the multiple perspectives are a bit more subtle, but they still have a practical purpose. The first-person narration in the opening chapter is a good way to maintain consistency with the previous novel in the series (which only uses first-person perspective), which makes the transition between the two novels a little bit more seamless. Likewise, one of the extended first-person segments later in the novel allows for some character-based stuff that works slightly better in first-person perspective.

So, in conclusion, if you’re going to use both first and third person narration in your story, then your changes should not only be signposted in a simple and consistent way, but they should also be there for a very good reason. In other words, if your story still “works” with just one perspective, then just use one.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why Knowing Your Chosen Genre Results In Better Stories – A Ramble

Although I’ve already talked about this topic with relation to the horror genre, I thought that I’d talk about why knowing your chosen genre is important for all stories. This is mostly because good (or even average) stories in any genre will often use multiple “types” of the same genre in order to add variety to the story and to keep it unpredictable.

In fact, if you look at almost any professionally-published novel, TV show, film etc.. then you will see something like this. It is one of the basic things that separates amateur storytelling from professional-standard storytelling.

For example, although I probably won’t review it properly, I happened to watch a rather amusing vampire-themed comedy film from 2014 called “What We Do In the Shadows” recently. Amongst other things, the types of humour in it include dark comedy, slapstick, farce, visual humour, running jokes, parody, character-based humour, wordplay, humourous contrast, understatement, subverted expectations etc… Because there are multiple types of humour here, the viewer is constantly caught by surprise and the film is a lot funnier than it would be if it had just focused on one type of humour.

Likewise, the modern sci-fi thriller novel (“The Rosewater Insurrection” by Tade Thompson) that I plan to review tomorrow contains several different types of thriller fiction. It is a mixture of a suspense thriller, a political thriller, a tech thriller and an action-thriller story. This mixture of thriller elements means that the reader never really gets tired of any one of them, which keeps the story compelling.

And, as mentioned in earlier articles, horror fiction will often use multiple types of horror in order to constantly catch the reader off-guard and prevent them from getting too used to any one scary thing. An excellent example of this is probably Nick Cutter’s 2015 novel “The Deep“, which uses at least 10-15 different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, paranormal horror, cruel horror, apocalyptic horror, gory horror, scientific horror, body horror etc…) to create the kind of unforgettably terrifying nightmare fuel that might catch even experienced horror readers by surprise.

So, if you want to avoid making your story seem amateurish or boring, then you need to know the genre that you are writing in. You need to know as many different techniques and “versions” of the genre that exist, so that you can include an unpredictable mixture of them in your story that will catch your reader by surprise. Because, if you focus on just one thing (eg: slapstick comedy, gory horror, fast-paced combat etc..), then it will probably get boring for your readers more quickly than you might think.

In computer game terms, this is why linear and almost entirely combat-focused “Serious Sam“/”Painkiller”-style first person shooter games are extremely fun to play… for about an hour or two at a time. Whereas, traditional-style FPS games (like “Doom II”, “Blood”, “Quake” etc..) can be enjoyed for much longer gaming sessions because they include a better variety of things that the player has to do. Instead of just fighting, the player also has to explore, solve basic puzzles, search for hidden items/areas etc… too.

Even if you really love one particular element of a genre, try not to focus on it too much. It might sound counter-intuitive, but you also need to include other stuff in order to prevent the audience from becoming bored or jaded. Think of it like guitar chords in a song or something like that. Even the most basic punk or heavy metal song will probably use at least three different chords. After all, if the guitarist just plays the same chord over and over again, then it will sound monotonous after a while.

So, the more things that you’ve looked at in your favourite genre, the more you will learn about what different types of things you can include in your story. Best of all, if you also look at other genres too, then you can sometimes find things that have something in common with your favourite genre, but haven’t really been used in your favourite genre that often. This results in much more original and interesting stories.

To use another musical example, take a look at the band Rage Of Light. They’re a modern metal band that use some well-known elements of the genre (like a mixture of clean and growled vocals, crunchy distorted guitars etc…). Yet, they have also obviously listened to a lot of trance music too, since their songs also include a lot of melodic electronic elements too. Because trance music is a fast-paced, intense and energetic genre of music, it goes surprisingly well with metal (which is also fast-paced, intense and energetic) whilst also producing something that sounds intriguingly different from most modern metal music.

So, whilst knowing your own genre will result in better stories (since you can use a much better variety of elements), learning a bit about other genres will result in even better ones.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Writing Victorian-Style Narration

Although I’m not sure if I’ve written about this topic before, I thought that I’d talk about how to write Victorian-style narration today. Although this is one of those skills that will probably feel like second nature when you’ve learnt it (and it’s been a while since I last read a proper Victorian novel), I can easily imagine that it might seem a bit more challenging if you’ve never tried it before. So, here are a few basic tips for making your story’s narration sound like it comes from Victorian Britain.

1) Read it (It’s easier than you think): The best way to learn how to write Victorian-style narration is simply to read it until you get a general sense of how people used to write back then. This won’t cost you much either since most Victorian novels are no longer in copyright in many parts of the world. So, you can often either legally find free copies online or find cheap “classics” editions of them in bookshops.

However, if you haven’t read any Victorian fiction before, then this might seem like a fairly intimidating and/or time-consuming task. After all, the Victorians have a reputation for writing giant three-volume novels and – thanks to some Victorian authors – their writing style isn’t exactly seen as “easily readable” either.

So, the best way to ease yourself into reading Victorian fiction is to start with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story collection “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes”. For starters, each story is a short plot-focused thing that also contains an intriguing mystery that will make you actually want to read more.

Not only that, these stories also use a slightly more readable and “matter of fact” late Victorian writing style that sounds Victorian enough to teach you how to write in this style, whilst being just about modern and fast-paced enough for them to be relatively easy to read. Likewise, they are also written from a first-person perspective, which helps to cut down on things like unnecessary descriptions or long-winded asides.

Another good “starter” story for researching Victorian fiction is probably Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” due to the short length, timelessly quirky humour and easily-readable writing style. And, after getting used to the style, then perhaps try reading more complex/descriptive shorter Victorian novels and/or novellas like Anthony Hope’s “The Prisoner Of Zenda” or Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

Once you’ve read some Victorian fiction, you’ll probably start to get a general sense of the style used by Victorian writers. And, when writing for modern audiences, you’ll probably want to use a Victorian style that is similar to the more compressed, focused and readable one found in late Victorian short stories and/or novellas, rather than the more meandering (and less readable) style used in longer novels.

2) Formality and context: Victorian-style narration is usually a bit more formal and descriptive than modern-style narration. The sentences are often longer and more complex too, with more of a focus on “telling”-style narration than on “showing”-style narration. And, when you understand some of the context and reasons for this, then writing in this style will become a lot easier.

For starters, film and television didn’t really exist back then in the way they do now. This had an effect on the writing style used back then. After all, if a writer had never seen a film, then their main frame of reference for how to write would be telling a story in the traditional sense. So, Victorian-style narration will often just flat-out tell the reader things about the characters, backstory etc.. and will often use slower-paced, longer and more complex/formal sentences too. After all, Victorians didn’t expect their novels to be like slickly-edited modern Hollywood films – because they didn’t exist back then.

Secondly, books were actually popular entertainment back then. Many Victorian novels would actually be released in episode-like segments in magazines (full-size books were more expensive back then, and TV didn’t really exist) – so things like cliffhanger chapter endings still mattered back then, since they made people want to buy the next issue of the magazine. This is also why Victorian novels can sometimes be a bit on the long-winded side of things, since more chapters meant more issues of the magazine that could be sold.

Thirdly, the internet didn’t exist back then. Not only did this mean that Victorian novels would sometimes explain or describe things a bit more (since their readers couldn’t just Google, for example, a particular ancient pyramid or castle), but it also meant that they often had more of a focus on small-scale mundane everyday life and/or drama than modern novels do. Not only was this easier to write, but it was more likely to be recognisable and understandable to the average reader of the time.

This also probably had an effect on things like metaphors and references too. However, since it’s been a while since I last read a Victorian novel, what I’m about to say is a combination of vague memories, generalisations and/or speculation more than anything else, but it is still worth thinking about.

Anyway, whilst novels aimed at upper-class readers will reference the Latin, Shakespeare and classical mythology that their readers would have learnt at private schools, novels aimed at a wider audience would often either reference texts that the average Victorian person was likely to have encountered (eg: the Bible, popular myths, popular Victorian novels, maybe a few well-known parts of Shakespeare etc..) or more “everyday” things that people of the time would easily have known about. Again, people back then didn’t have the internet.

3) Have fun: Victorian-style narration sounds very melodramatic, and a little bit silly, pompous and/or over-written, when read today. It is often unintentionally hilarious. So, don’t take yourself entirely seriously when you write it and you’ll find the experience a lot easier. Just enjoy the theatricality and overwrought melodrama of it and you’ll find that writing it is a lot more enjoyable.

Seriously, if a piece of Victorian-style narration makes you laugh when you’re writing it, then you’re probably doing something right. This style is incredibly fun to use because of its silliness and hyper-dramatic “so bad that it’s good” nature.

And don’t worry about getting it “100% perfect” either – as long as it doesn’t contain anything glaringly modern, then readers will probably be a bit more forgiving for the simple reason that they will probably already know it is a modern text written in a Victorian style. After all, you probably aren’t trying to pass your story off as an actual, genuine piece of Victorian literature. Not only that, some level of humour and/or modern streamlining will also make your Victorian-style narration more readable to modern audiences too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Sneaky Hacks For Writing A Novel If You’re A Short Story Writer

After another traditional-style novel project I was trying to write a couple of weeks before preparing this article failed, I came to the realisation that I was a much stronger writer when it came to short stories than novel-length stories. And, I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has ever found themselves in this situation.

However, novel-length stories are the most popular and widely-read type of fiction out there (seriously, compare the numbers of novels and short story collections on the shelves of an average bookshop). So, there are a lot of reasons to try writing one. But, if you’re at your absolute best when writing snappy, distilled fiction or you absolutely thrive when you can tell a story that takes place on a slightly smaller scale, then how can you write anything novel-length?

Here are a few sneaky hacks that might come in handy.

1) Episodic plots: This is a technique where a seemingly single and linear plot (featuring the same cast of characters) is actually built up from several smaller sub-plots. In other words, a short story collection in disguise. The best way to think about this is like a TV show – whilst each “episode” of the series may contain a different sub-story, there is also a main story arc running in the background.

Of course, you will need to think of a premise that will “work” with several short story-like sub-plots (stories about travelling or about a single location are fairly good) and come up with an interesting group of characters that you won’t mind spending several stories with. The trick to knowing when you have found one of these is when you keep getting lots of sudden ideas for possible “episodes”, to the point where you actually have to decide which ones you want to leave out of your “novel”.

Another advantage of using this technique is that, when done well, it will make your disguised story collection seem a lot more vivid, rich and eventful than a traditional novel since it will have multiple “beginning, middle and end” segments in it when compared to the one that you would find in a traditionally-structured novel.

This approach is kind of like a hybrid of a novel and a short story collection and the best way to understand how to write it is to either watch a few scripted TV series from the 1990s/early-mid 2000s (since this sort of structure was fairly common back then, before streaming and box-sets became ultra-popular) or to read some novels that use a version of this technique. For example, some elements of this structure can be found in Jodi Taylor’s “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” and in Becky Chambers’ “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet“.

2) Fix-ups: Although Wikipedia points out that “fix-up” short story collections – involving a framing story linking several unrelated short stories- became popular in the 1950s, the basic idea goes back a lot further than this. In fact, you can even see elements of this structure in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales“, a medieval text about a group of travellers, each of whom tells a tale. It’s a very old way of presenting a short story collection in a novel-like package.

But, although this basic idea can be used in a lot of ways (and is great if you’re better at writing first-person narration too), you still need to pay attention to your framing story. Not only does it have to be interesting and inventive enough to grab the reader’s attention, but it should also make them curious about the short stories (which should, in turn, tell the reader more about the framing story).

A good example of this sort of thing is a novel “World War Z” by Max Brooks. Although it isn’t technically a “fix-up”, it uses the techniques of one in a really cool way. Set after humanity had successfully survived a zombie apocalypse – an intriguingly rare situation in this genre – the framing story follows a UN officer who is interviewing people in order to record the history of the zombie apocalypse (so, each story gives the reader some extra intriguing backstory). The combination of these two things means that, even if you aren’t a fan of short story collections and/or multiple first-person narrators, it is still a really intriguing novel.

3) Side-stories: This tends to work best in the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres, but it can work in any genre if handled well. If you’re planning to write more of a traditional novel, but want to either take a break by writing some short fiction and/or need the enthusiasm that comes from writing a story that can be finished in a relatively short amount of time, then adding a small side-story can be a good way of doing this.

These tend to work best in stories that use third-person narration (and your side-story has to be relevant to your main plot in some way), but cutting away to a totally new character for a fairly self-contained single chapter story can be a great way to add a bit of short storytelling to a novel.

These types of side-stories tend to work best in novels that are set in an intriguing fictional world (hence why they might turn up in a sci-fi or fantasy novel, since they add depth) or for adding an extra sense of scale or menace to a series of frightening events (which is why you’ll find examples of this technique in many zombie novels and/or classic 1970s/80s horror novels like James Herbert’s “The Rats).

Yes, your short side-story needs to be relevant to the main plot and you shouldn’t include too many of them (to avoid confusing the reader), but they can be a great way of sneaking a bit of short story writing into a traditional-style novel.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important For Writers

Although I’ve talked before about the famous advice (summed up most pithily by Stephen King) about the importance of reading regularly if you’re a writer, I thought that I’d look at this topic again since I’ve been thinking about some more of the useful things it can do for authors. But, since I’ll be talking a lot about inspiration (and copyright) here, I should probably give the obligatory “I am not a lawyer” disclaimer right now.

1) It widens your palette: The more fiction you read by more different authors, the more interesting and varied your stories will be. Often, this won’t be blatant or obvious, but it’ll often allow you to add all sorts of subtle stuff to your story that you might not have even thought about including before. Every book you read leaves a small trace in your imagination and expands your own personal definition of what a story is and what sort of stuff it can include.

So, the more books you read, the wider your “palette” will be when it comes to crafting original story ideas of your own or even working out how to create a particular effect or mood in any one part of your story.

All creative people are inspired by everything that we have ever read, watched, seen, played, heard etc… Originality comes from having a wide enough range of these things that an instinctive, well-chosen combination of general elements, themes, stylistic pointers etc.. from all of these things (but NOT highly-specific copyrightable details, because that is plagiarism) turns into something that the reader has never quite seen before. So, the more books you read, the wider the palette you’ll have when creating your own stories and story ideas.

2) “I wish I could have written that!”: If you read regularly, you’re going to have this reaction. You’ve just read an absolutely amazing book and you think “I wish I could have written that!“. Of course, if you’re either still in the early stages of learning how to write fiction, haven’t read that much or don’t have enough ideas of your own yet, then this will probably result in you writing some non-commercial “fan fiction” that uses the characters, settings etc… from the book you’ve just read.

Of course, if you’re a bit more experienced and, more crucially, have read quite a bit then you’ll probably think of examples where other authors have clearly had these moments but done something a lot more imaginative with them. After all, they wanted to write a “proper” book that they could publish and sell. Not only couldn’t they directly copy the thing that inspired them (because of copyright law and all that…), but they also then did something different with it that was much more in tune with their own imagination, sensibilities, interests etc…

Reading a lot of books (and, even better, reviewing them) makes you think about books on a more technical and thematic level. It gives you the ability to work out exactly what inspires you so much about a book and exactly what elements set your favourite type of book apart from the rest. It allows you to refine this definition through seeing lots of books that you do and don’t like. And when you’ve worked out what all of your favourite books by different authors have in common, then you have the beginnings of a good story idea that you’ll be really inspired to write.

Of course, you also need to know yourself. You need to, through experiences, introspection, daydreaming and – of course, reading, watching etc… lots of stuff, have a very good understanding of your own imagination. Since, although you might have your “all my favourite things have this in common!” idea, you still need to tailor-make it into something that only you can write. You need to use it as a skeleton to put all of your stuff on top of.

Yes, your final story will (and should, if you want to avoid copyright problems) be fairly different from the story that initially made you think “I wish I could have written that!” But, it’ll be something better. It’ll be an interesting, unique story that will probably make other people think “I wish I could have written that!”.

3) Finding your writing style: The more you read and write, the more your own distinctive writing style will evolve. And, yes, this another reason why reading a lot – especially reading lots of different authors – matters so much.

Reading a lot exposes you to lots of different writing styles and, if you’re new to writing, you’re almost certainly going to spend time copying your favourite ones (for example, when I was 17, virtually every story I wrote sounded like either Conan Doyle and/or Lovecraft). Although these stories will be second-rate imitations of your favourite writers, they are still important! Because, when you’ve done this enough times, when you’ve read enough different writing styles and “tried out” a few of them, your own unique style – a combination of all of them in varying proportions- will begin to emerge.

So, not only is reading a lot (by different authors) important for developing your own writing style, but it also shows you that styles that you might have written off as “boring” or “annoying” can actually work well. For example, when I got back into reading regularly a little over a year ago, I tended to focus slightly more on books that were written in a fast-paced, informal way because this was fun to read. In fact, I even started to notice how formal the writing in a lot of older 1880s-1990s books I read when I was younger were and, for a while at least, I thought that formal narration was a “bad thing”. Old-fashioned, dull, slow-paced etc…

Then I started to notice how these types of slow-paced, formal writing styles allowed for a lot more depth and atmosphere (something only noticeable when you’ve read several informal, fast-paced books and then read a formal one). Then, more importantly, I started practicing and experimenting with writing at length again (after dabbling with short stories). And I tried to write fast-paced thrillers, written in a punchy, informal style that was just like the thriller novels I really enjoyed reading.

After a while, these stories felt limp, empty, repetitive, boring and/or monotonous to write. All of these fast-paced stories failed in one way or another. It was only then that I remembered that, yes, I know how to write formal narration (eg: all of that practice with writing in the style of Conan Doyle, Lovecraft etc.. when I was younger and all the practice I’ve had writing these articles) and that reintroducing some of these “slow-paced” elements to my writing style would allow me to write much richer, deeper and more atmospheric stories.

So, yes, reading a lot will help you to refine your writing style into something unique and interesting that is both fun to write and to read.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂