Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Reading and writing/eating and cooking

I've been to a couple of author events recently where audience members asked the writer variations on this question: "I felt sad to leave characters behind when I reached the end of your book - did you feel that too, when you finished writing?" The answer from both authors was a resounding no.

That made me smile because it illustrates the wonderful difference between reading and writing.

It's like the difference between eating and cooking. Eating is fun. You salivate, savour, taste, try, enjoy, share. (Hell, even spit out if you really don't like it.) The plate is set in front of you, and you experience what's on it. Cooking is also fun, but it's an entirely different pleasure. It's about anticipating what will create good taste sensations in the person who will be doing the eating. You need some basic skill - to follow a recipe - but also you need to know that certain combinations will produce a certain effect: cooked apple tastes even better with a pinch of cinnamon. A squeeze of lemon lifts grilled chicken. And so on.

It's a lot easier to be a good cook if you enjoy eating, because each time you eat something good you store away a memory of that experience, and perhaps one day you will strive to reproduce it (the golden patches on that perfect omelette, the melting quality of an amazing loaf of sourdough).

It's the same with writing. I think you have to enjoy reading (and do a lot of it) to be a good writer. Because that's how we find out how to achieve the effects we want our readers to experience. Whether it's tension and suspense, surprise, humour, a multi layered plot or whatever, it can all be found in someone else's writing.

And by the time you've read plenty, and figured out how to create a character your readers will fall in love with, and written it, and rewritten it, and rewritten about a hundred times more, it's not surprising once you've finished and are sending your book out into the world, that all you want to say to the character is: "Thanks, good luck and goodbye." The author is ready for an amicable divorce, just as the readers, fingers crossed, are going to fall in love.

No comments:

Post a Comment