Reading is Fundamental… by Nancy Brophy

One would think as a writer (and a reader) that the time I spend on a computer helps my brain absorb knowledge. And it does. Kind of…

Reading provides a sensory time travel complete with settings, voices, smells, hopes and fears. Our job as writers is to evoke emotion. Your readers not only must form a picture of what is happening, but she/he must be emotionally invested. They must be experiencing your hero/heroine’s emotions as their own. Terror, arousal, love, heartbreak, sadness, joy.

When I read stories by a new author I frequently find that the missing ingredient is the detail that draws the reader into the story. Internally the author can see the scene clearly but haven’t reached the point in their writing where that information is conveyed. Recently I read a story in which I said to the author “You have talking heads in part of the story.” While she was too polite to argue with me, she knew in her heart she did not.

Talking heads refers to too much dialogue verses narrative. However, a week later she called to tell me she couldn’t believe she’d totally missed that. Nobody wants to hear criticism, but sometimes others see what we miss.

If asked, what is the most important part of a story, most writers would say conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. But evoking emotion has to be present or our readers put down the book.

Words provide the transportation to move us to a different landscape. How many could visualize the wizarding world of Harry Potter without benefit of a movie? Or the Civil War south of Scarlett O’Hara? Or the griminess of England during any Charles Dickens’ novel?

Does the spoken word do the same?  

Yes, but in different ways.

Audiobooks conjure photos, but it is easy to get distracted by the nameless voices reading the story. Hearing doesn’t always evoke the same emotion from me than reading does.

 However, if I am studying for an exam I will remember the spoken word longer than the written one, particularly in material where I am not well-grounded.

Reading can transcend a real-life experience. Apparently your brain believes that if one is immersed in a story, the reaction is same as though it happened in real time – which accounts for why many of us are introverts. We don’t believe we are missing life. In fact we have a richer set of experiences because we live through characters in books.

Reading for pleasure creates different brain waves than reading as an editor and even that is different from the brain waves created by writing. Authors frequently say “I had to shut my internal editor off as I wrote the first draft otherwise I’d never get to the end.”

Reading is one of the most fundamental skills we can teach our children. If a child learns to read he/she can do anything. Sometimes all it takes is the right story at the right time. Like Harry Potter. Like Little Women. Like Captain Underpants. Like Dr. Seuss.

Set an example. In my home my parents decorated with books and everybody read. We were not athletes, we were readers. I’ve been a believer in more balance as I’ve gotten older.

Except so many of my friends are fictional and giving even one of them up would be impossible. Without them I would not be the person I am today.


Posted on February 23, 2013, in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Even though I am an auditory learner, I do not enjoy audio books. There is something about the reading process that engages me and my emotions more clearly. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that in audio books someone else is interpreting the emotions. Whereas when I read, I’m not only interpreting them but engaging with them.

    This also goes to my comment on what I think is the most important part of a novel. That is the emotion. For me it is emotion that makes the characters real. It is emotion that draws me into the story as a participant. Though I can appreciate beautiful description or a plot that is full of action, without emotion I end up being more of a detached reader–someone who watches and perhaps admires the writing, instead of a participant who is drawn into the story.

    Often, when I judge a manuscript for a contest, I find great basic writing on a sentence-by-sentence level. Good grammar, good dialog, nice descriptions, etc. However, often what is lacking is a connection to the characters (no matter how hunky, cute, clever, or snarky). That loss of connection goes back to emotion on the page. It is hard to learn, but once you do it makes a big difference in the writing.


  2. I didn’t read my first book, that I can remember picking out for myself, until I was 13. I must have read in school before then, I just don’t remember. I’ve been an enthusiastic reader ever since. And I hate giving up a book I’ve read and enjoyed. I have boxes and boxes of books in storage waiting to go on my new bookshelves because I can’t give them away. I agree. Reading and all the friends I’ve found between the covers has shaped who I’ve become 🙂


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