Ooohhhhhh, how exciting! This post coincides with Neil Gaiman’s (the best author ev-ah!) All Hallow's Read. The gist: give someone a scary book to read, and read one for yourself. Since you’re likely reading this post because you want to recount your personal, hair-raising crime experience, this is the month to kick off one of the best writing habits: becoming a good reader.
Reading gives you a sense of story, and how good ones—the ones that resonate with readers—are crafted. As a good reader, delving into a variety of books you enjoy, you learn what it takes to present your ideas by observing what worked, or didn’t work, for other authors. Or, it shows how to just present information. After all, not all written materials are novels.
If you despise reading, it’s time end your writing plans. It’ll just be an uphill battle, choosing a medium that you frankly don’t value. Look for alternate ways to tell your story or to changing the world that allowed that horrible crime to happen to you. For example, start researching podcasts, or indy filmmaking, or storytelling, or victim’s advocacy, or political activism, or …
So, now that I’ve discouraged non-readers, lets get back on track with the reading discussion. Even for chronic bookworms (guilty), reading for work can feel like a rotten inconvenience. It breaks the pace of those few precious hours between your day job (because face, it: lacking a sponsor, someone has to pay the bills), writing your manuscript, and bedtime. I’m cringing while admitting this. What a horrid confession from a gal with a solid wall of bookshelves and a BA in English literature. But it’s true. Most days, I just want to skip the background work and just get to writing. Some weeks, I do just that. Knowing I’m shooting myself in the foot.
When I do pick up those discarded library books, they present new ideas. Reminders of what I enjoy reading, so I can write for audiences like me. Presenting new ways to write. Researching how others victims-turned-authors handled ideas similar to mine, and allow their words to resonate and shape mine. I’ve chucked some books I’ve read while writing about my experiences, in the margin.
While you’re reading, target books that you not enjoy, but that also harmonize with your topic of choice. It familiarized you with what others are saying about the subject. You’re learning what’s already out on the market. This tells you what the market is accepting and what readers like, before you start writing. What’s already been written. How they’re writing about it. Keeping abreast on the latest conversations. It will also show you holes in your story, things others covered that you forgot. Give you a chance to disagree with the presentation, and give ideas for new angles to cover. While you’re at it, read recent books. That way, you’ll be up to date on current ways of telling stories, and understand reader expectations for your story.
If it needs to be said, this is called inspiration, not plagiarism. If this is a new concept, I’ll spell out the differences: inspiration is like training wheels. They temporarily hold you upright on a bicycle while you learn to balance your own weight. Eventually, those wheels need to come off, otherwise, when you do enter the Tour de France, you’ll look ridiculous. Conversely, plagiarism is selecting the text, hitting Edit > Copy, then moving over to your Microsoft Word document and hitting Edit > Paste.
That inspiration, as well as you as a person, merge and shape your story. If you’re in law enforcement, you might write about the crime from a legal perspective, or, write a guide for working within the law. A psychologist might pull those inner, mental worlds into the story. If you’re like me, a chronic lover of sci-fi, you might find that regularly delving into surreal worlds helps you present the more head-bending aspect of surviving a crime.
Likewise, putting it gently, reading books that are similar to your personal, deeply damaging, horror-filled, true crime story also serve as a litmus test. Does reading or listening to others’ tales of horror need trigger warnings? Did you get offended when I suggested at the beginning of the post to delve into reading scary books? Perhaps feeling like I was trivializing your pain?
It’s why I earlier recommended that you get a sense of what readers like to read. It’s impossible to control who gets to read it and what they do with it. Many will read your survival tale for voyeuristic purposes, not for empathizing with your pain. It will shock you, as it shocked me, to discover that people were keenly interested in learning the grisly details, like tantalizing gossip whispered at the water cooler. That more were more keenly interested in learning about my stalker (“Why the hell would anyone want to know about that horrible woman!” I would bellow at my computer screen while reading blog comments, while restraining myself from responding online) than about loyal, supportive friends.
Reading will help you realize what you need to write, and keep writing, in spite of reader response.