Beloved romance writer Christina Dodd brings our Read Forever guest author series to a close today, with a post emphasizing the value of voracious reading, and how it has helped her hone her craft. It’s refreshing to see just how important reading is even to an accomplished, bestselling author, and really makes a case for reading forever regardless of your profession!
We hope you’ve enjoyed these guest blog posts from Lee Child, Tom Brokaw, Mary Higgins Clark, Tom Perrotta, Nikki Giovanni and Christina Dodd, and we look forward to hearing more from you about why you’ll read forever!
Christina Dodd Tells You the Secret to Writing a Book
Do you want to write a book?
Then you need to know the one, really important secret that will help you get published. Brace yourself. Here it comes …
You need to read. A lot.
I was appalled when I read this statistic: Stat: Eighty percent of Americans want to write a book, but only fifty-seven percent have read one in the past year.
How is this possible? If you don’t read, how will you be able to write a book? How will you know story structure? How will you understand the character archetypes? How will you discover what moves a reader to laughter, to tears, to love, if you don’t take that journey yourself?
In grade school, I was one of those snot-nosed kids who learned to read quickly and never stopped. (Whenever I say this, a lot of my readers wave their hands and say, “I was a snot-nosed kid, too!” Yes, us readers hang together. J ) I read indiscriminately all the way through high school — classics, Harlequin romances, Broadway plays, the Little House books, you name it. I would steal the time from homework and TV and friends, and spend the time reading. (I did not have to steal the time from sports — I was also one of those snot-nosed kids with glasses and braces, and I ducked when a baseball came at my face.)
Like everyone else in the world, I grew up and life interfered (work, husband, children.) I had to pare down the time I could spend reading, so I concentrated on what I loved best, which was romance: historical and contemporary, first person or third person, suspense or paranormal. As long as the plot appealed to me, I didn’t care when or where it was set, I’d read it.
With romance, what’s not to like? The relationship between one man and one woman holds center stage, and that’s always good for a laugh. A woman wants things like world peace, a clean house, and a deep and meaningful relationship based on mutual understanding and love. A man wants things like a Craftsman router with attachments, undisputed control of the TV remote, and a red Corvette which will miraculously make his bald spot disappear.
Eventually all this romance reading gave me a brilliant idea. I thought, “I can write a book! How hard could it be?” thus proving I had two of the attributes of a writer — a large ego and very little sense of reality.
Actually what all those years of reading gave me was a natural sense of how plot, characterization, motivation and conflict work together to create a story. Reading taught me to write in a way no writing lessons or writing books could do.
I wrote for ten years before I got published, and during that time reading got to be guilty pleasure. It was tough to justify the time spent reading when I should be working on a writing a book in the hopes of someday grabbing the gold ring — or at least the signed check.
But not only did reading teach me how to write, I found that putting words in fed the flow of words out. It seemed that reading fed the creative well and if I didn’t read, I’d find myself staring at a blank computer screen with no idea how to fill it.
Finally, after ten years of trying, I got The Call and my first book was published. Being a published author includes demands on my time I’d never imagined: publicity and email and blogging and touring, things I’m thrilled to do because they mean I’m a popular author. But my reading time has been seriously compromised and that breaks my heart.
But while writing is the best job in the world, it’s still a job. I work fifty weeks a year, eight hours a day, and if I have a new book out, that eight hours a day becomes ten or twelve.
Reading a book immerses me in exotic worlds and different sensibilities. For me, a book is a vacation from real life.
So there’s the secret to writing a book.
Read to learn the basics of pacing and plotting and what’s involved in creating a successful suspense. Read to learn how to craft a character arc that takes your heroine from downtrodden maiden to triumphant woman. Immerse yourself in the kinds of stories you want to write — and then put your rear in the chair and write them.
New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd builds worlds filled with romance and adventure and creates the most distinctive characters in fiction today. Her forty-eight novels — paranormals, historicals and romantic suspense — have been translated into eighteen languages, won Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart and RITA Awards and been called the year’s best by Library Journal. Dodd herself has been a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle (11/18/05, # 13 Down: Romance Novelist named Christina.) Her legions of fans always know that when they pick up a Christina Dodd book, they know they’ve found a story “For the wild at heart!”
Author photo © Sigrid Estrada
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