Posted by: Greg | July 26, 2010

Reading is Writing

Oh, you know, reading is fundamental an’ shit, we just excited.” – Maurice “Snoop” Miller  Out of Sight

Not long ago write.play.repeat pointed out to me that “reading is writing”.  I consider her one of the most intelligent individuals I know, and that particular line made her sound a couple donuts short of a dozen.  She proceeded to explain that to be an effective writer, or communicator, you need to have a wide range of reading under your belt.  I didn’t quite put writing and reading as complimentary forces until one of my writing group meetings.

The Scene:
A good friend’s apartment, Deap Wasp Fiction, littered with an odd assortment of old and new furniture. Quite the bachelor pad.

The Cast:
A group of six writers. Five physically present writers and one Skype writer on video chat.

The Discussion:
A script that parodies 50’s and 60’s Sci-fi and horror.  One of the few times we discuss scripts.  (The writing group mostly reviews short stories.)

The Result:
Those writers not used to reading scripts had problems providing constructive feedback.

And then it hit me like a Mack truck skidding on an icy patch!  Unless you regularly read scripts it can be a jarring experience to look at one!  And to try and provide constructive feedback when things look like a chemistry equation, it can get pretty ugly.

Most of our reading is done in the prose format, from elementary school onward.  There are manuals, newspapers, textbooks, encyclopedias (yes, those really thick books in a library where the real research was done!) and popular fiction books.  The more of these styles you read the more you understand and can even recreate in your own voice.  The more newspapers you read the quicker you can skim over the fluff and get the real meat of the story from the journalist.  The more manuals you read the quicker you can skip steps 1-5 because they are always the same, except for making sure you have the correct tools in front of you.  The more encyclopedias you read…OK, maybe not the encyclopedias, but you could still write a really cool report on tarsiers because they look funny and made you laugh when you were seven.  (Or maybe that was just me!)

At no point in my twelve years of education (note: I am excluding college) were movie scripts part of an English class.  There were multiple plays from Bill Shakes, a couple of Beckett, a few Oscar Wilde, and if you were lucky, Sophocles.  There were poems from Billy Blake, Bill Shakes, Sylvia Plath, and E.E. Cummings.  When you first read any of those you are completely lost.  If there is any sort of interest in that style of writing you would read more.  The more you read the more you understand word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, and emotion.  And should you wish to write in that particular style the better your writing will be.

Yeah, those memories of high school English are hard to shake, but sometimes a trip down memory lane can be eye opening.  So, how many scripts did you read?  I’ll give you a moment to revisit high school.

Wow, you read just as many as I did!  NONE.

Why is that?  I think reading a script would be another great form of writing to understand and study.  Think of how an image is conveyed in a minimal amount of words.  Creating dialogue that sounds real but in reality is a brief version of how we talk to each other.  Working within the confines of a set amount of pages to build characters and plot.  It opens up an unlimited amount of possibilities for creativity!

I think knowledge of other styles of writing will improve your preferred writing choice.  Give it a try.  Read something you are not familiar or comfortable with.  Test yourself as a writer and try to write in those styles you are uncomfortable with.  I bet you will improve as a writer!

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Responses

  1. I think that, as film grows more widely accepted as a literary artform (in addition to a theatrical one) we might just see some screenplays being studied in literature classes. I think it would be great.


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