Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, February 28, 2014

Reading Like a Writer


There are few things I enjoy as much as a good read. I don’t read like I used to. I now read like a writer. I realized this after reading a short story that completely enthralled me for the course of several thousand words. When I came back to the real world, I found myself not only analyzing what made the story so amazing, but analyzing how I as a writer read it differently than I would if I didn’t write.

I always think back over the story after the fact and try to figure out what made it work for me or not. That process within itself can’t keep from changing the story making it a story of multiple plots and constructs the writer never intended, but my mind can’t keep from creating. If in my analysis there are lots of changes I would make, things I would have done differently as the author, at some point it becomes my story, the one I’m writing in my head, and no longer the story the author intended.

For me, the big clue to how I esteem the story is the point at which I begin to analyze. If I’m analyzing the story as I read it, then it’s clearly not going to get five stars on the K D story critique scale. The sooner I begin my analysis while I’m reading, the fewer stars the story rates from me, until at some point it becomes an exercise in editing and recreating it as my own story rather than reading for pleasure. When that happens, the whole process becomes a different experience than the one the writer intended.

If, however, I get totally lost in the story, then my whole internal landscape changes. The writer in me is temporarily replaced by the ravenous reader who simply loves a good story. When I am pulled in, rough and tumble, to the world the author created, the story becomes multi-dimensional and experienced twice, sometimes thrice over, sometimes even more. When I’m in the queue at the supermarket, or in bed waiting to fall asleep, when I’m waiting for the bus, I can have the secret pleasure of reliving that story over and over.

Being pulled in is the first part of experiencing a great story. The second part, the analysis part, happens after the fact. When the story moves me, excites me, changes me, then my analysis of it is a different process. Because I don’t feel I can improve on it, analysis then becomes taking the story into myself from a write’s point of view. In other words, what is it that makes this story so fantastic, and how can I incorporate some of that fantastic-ness into my own writing?

A perfect story, a story that pulls me in and devours me whole is a lingering experience. I’m a firm believer that a good story should somehow change the reader. But a good story should change a writer even more so. A good story should be like discovering a view from a mountaintop that we didn’t know was there before, a view that changes everything, the waterfall we didn’t see, the storm we never expected, the castle that dominates the landscape. A really great story has the potential to make me a better writer, a better weaver of story, a better seer of nuance, a better wielder of my craft.

But a good story should change more than just my views of my writing world. It should touch and stimulate in ways I would not have expected. It should open up the landscapes in my unconscious and my imagination. In some ways, a good story acts as a Muse, and that is the pinnacle of what a writer can glean from a story. I won’t say that doesn’t happen with badly written stories as well, after all the Muse chooses her own time and place. But with a good story, somehow the appearance of the Muse seems more numinous, more dressed for the occasion.

For me, the most powerful element of any story is the key relationship and how it expresses itself. That expression is often sexual, and a well-written sex scene carries with it the weight of human emotion. It carries with it the drive to reach that magical point where two become one, where we are as close to being in the skin of ‘the other’ as it is possible to be. The power of sex and relationship in story can hardly be overstated. Even in mediocre stories, the power of love and relationship can still pull me outside of the editor-me and into the roil of the archetypal story of human need. To me, that means we erotica writers wield one of the most powerful tools in the writing craft; sex in story. Use it poorly and it just sounds stupid and crass. But use it well and it’ll be the moment in the story that the reader remembers while in the queue at the grocery store, while drifting off to sleep, while waiting for the bus. And it’ll be remembered with that ache of commonality of all humanity, the driving force within us all. Keeping that in mind, I don’t think it’s any wonder that so many writers fear writing sex. 


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for yet another wise and wonderful post. Alas, reading as a writer frequently spoils the process for me. I encounter few perfect stories (after all, how many can possibly exist?), and the longer I write, the more glaring the imperfections become. Not that I can't enjoy a flawed story, but my hyper-awareness distracts from the transcendent experience you describe.

    Of course when that does happen - when a tale truly sweeps me away - the moment becomes even more precious.

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  2. You've said a mouthful. There is that delicious feeling that comes over me when I consume a piece of writing like a hungry, selfish child. I want to tell the world to go away, I can't get enough of the story. My inner critic couldn't get a foothold even if I wanted her to. And, in retrospect, when I have to put a finger on what caused me to flip into that mode, it's always a recognition of two things: one is that I can sense some essential honesty bleeding through the formal structure of the story. The other is that I'm seeing something new. Some small but important insight I haven't considered before.

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