What kind of stories do you like? I hope the sky is the limit here!
I read a wide range of stories and owe a huge debt to my late mother for encouraging my love of reading at an early age. I wasn’t to know how much that gift of the love of reading (and I do see it as a gift) was going to stand me in good stead for my writing.
Flash Fiction and Short Stories
You would expect me to love these because I write them. It is true you have to write what you love to read. The love is what keeps you going when all that comes in your inbox are rejections (or more likely, you don’t hear back from a market or competition. Most competitions and markets are inundated with submissions. They won’t have time to reply).
My introduction to short stories comes from the classic fairytales of the Brothers Grimm etc. My introduction to flash fiction, though it was never called that (and still isn’t), would be Aesop’s Fables and the parables of Jesus in the Bible. Why? Because the majority come in well under the 1000 words count which is the upper limit for flash fiction.
I love how worlds can be shown in short word counts. And for flash the intensity of it is a big draw.
I love reading it as well as writing it and this helps my writing in a few ways.
Firstly, it makes sure I do read contemporary fiction. I must know what is out there now. (I would find it only too easy otherwise to just read classic fiction as there is plenty there I would still like to read but every writer needs a good reading diet to feed their imagination. Getting the balance right between reading contemporary and classic fiction is important).
Secondly, I get a feel for a publisher’s particular style and what they like to publish. That is vital knowledge if I decide to submit something to them later.
Thirdly, if I discover an author I like, I will check out their other books. Win-win here. They get more sales. I’ve discovered the joy of finding another great author to read.
It makes huge sense to support the industry you want to be part of and reading is a fantastic way to do that. I make it a policy to read short story and flash fiction collections in between reading novels so I mix up the type of tale I read.
I love novels for their scope. Favourite novels have taken me into the realms of fantasy, back in time, into criminal mindsets and so on. I love reading to discover how the author ties up the sub-plots (and I can learn so much from that I can apply to my longer stories). I love the way someone like P.G.Wodehouse plays with the language. I’ve always adored word play.
The novel’s advantage over the shorter form of fiction is you have longer to get to know the characters and fall for them/loathe them with every fibre of your being (delete as appropriate!). For certain types of story, especially the quest, that calls out for the tale to be told in a novel. You do need the space and word count. It is no coincidence fantasy novels often come in at well over 100,000 words.
I can’t remember the first novel I read unaided but Pride and Prejudice, still a huge favourite, was amongst them.
I often think of a novel as being like a tapestry on a wall. You see the whole landscape, the depths of detail, the range of characters etc. You’re taken away by the scale of it all. For a novella you’re seeing half of that tapestry. For a short story (1500 words plus), you’re seeing half again.
For flash, it is like taking a spotlight and shining it on one corner of that tapestry. You won’t see all of the details but what you will see are those moments you would miss when you were being taken away by the scale of the whole tapestry. You can follow single threads through and track them back. There are many interesting stories to come from doing that.
All of these forms of writing and reading have their merits. I can’t pick a favourite.
Feeding into What I Write
Building Up to the Novel
I started reading shorter stories and then got into longer books, which I suspect is the way most people do it. It is also the best way to hook people into reading and to keep reading. One of my hopes for flash fiction as a form is it might lure in to the reluctant reader. After all I’m not asking someone to commit to too much in one go. But I would be delighted if someone, having read flash (ideally mine of course!), then went on to read longer works as well.
All you read will inspire ideas for future stories though you’re often not aware of it at the time. Reading gives your unconscious mind something to feed on so the wider you read, the more chance there is your imaginative muscles will get a huge feast! I wouldn’t know I loved fantasy and fairytales unless I had read the classic fairytales, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis etc.
Genre fiction has character types which readers will expect to see so you need to know what these are and why they play the role they do in the genre concerned. Best way to do that? Reading in the genre!
Knowing How a Book/Story Works
You take in so much unconsciously when you read, including how a story or book is laid out, how dialogue is presented and so on. You will know what a book and story is meant to look like and that will help when you’re preparing your work ready for submission to a publisher. No re-inventing of the wheel here!
You also get a feel of the word count required for each genre. Mills and Boon are significantly shorter than most fantasy novels (and a fair amount of crime ones too). As you read, you will come across different publishers in the fields in which you like to read. You now know who to approach when it comes to trying to place your own books.
Best thing of all? You get a wide range of entertainment in discovering all these fabulous story types. And, like chocolates, you need not stick at one favourite!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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