Tag Archives: reading

Mirror, Mirror…

A month ago or so, I finished reading all the entries I had received to judge for a writing contest.  I read both children’s lit and YA fiction this year, and it’s been fascinating.  I have so many things on my mind to say about what I observed, but I wanted to take a step back today and reflect on the big picture.

When you look in a mirror, why do you look in the mirror?

I’ll bet that if you look in a mirror — even if you just happen upon a mirror and pause to glance at your reflection — you don’t just stand there and stare at yourself.  You probably find something to fix — hair out of place, lipstick needs refreshing, and hope no one noticed that piece of spinach in my teeth.  Or you consider that you really should head to the gym today even though you don’t feel like it, or you notice that the baby spit up on the back of your shirt, or you realize that your tie is crooked.  And you proceed to fix whatever needs fixing.

Literature, in so many ways, functions like a mirror.

It shows us the best and worst of human nature, revealing the struggles of  man against some force internal or external.  But we don’t just read books to gawk at ourselves (collectively) in some voyeuristic fashion.  We read books because they can teach us something — they change us somehow, whether we mean them to or not.  Books encourage us to grow, to adjust, to become better human beings.  We identify with a character and his or her struggles, we watch him or her confront and (hopefully) overcome, and then we see how we can apply his or her experiences to our own lives.  And the goal is one of improvement, not just of recognition.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a trend — and perhaps you’ve noticed it too.  There are some books where the characters just seem to develop…sideways, if that’s possible.  They change, but not in a positive (or even a negative) direction.  Something seems to push them sideways for a bit, and then they snap back and continue on.  There’s no indication that their decisions in the future will be affected by what’s happened to them over the course of the novel…no indication that they’ve become better people – or even different people — for what’s happened to them.

Reading a book like this is like looking in a mirror and saying, “Yep.  That’s me.  Yep.  Spinach in my teeth.  Tie crooked. Yep.  Guess that’s just how I am.  Oh, well.”

And in YA fiction, there’s often a follow-up to this admission of imperfection with no desire of amendment: “And if they don’t like it, well, screw them, because I won’t change.”

It’s not a question of whether or not literature will teach.  So, there’s a choice we face as writers.  Will our writing inspire our readers to be better people?

Or will we just teach them how to scuttle sideways?


Well, S.K. is on vacation so you’re stuck with another blog post from me.  (Hope you’re enjoying the beach, S.K.  Without me.  Yep…enjoying mojitos on the beach, with the waving palm trees and parrots……without me….).  (I’m only slightly jealous.  Slightly.)

Anyway.  Angsting aside, I just read a fabulous blog post by Jane Friedman called Why Take the Time to Read Your Work Out Loud?  As the title suggests, she talks about how important it is for writers to read their works aloud as part of the editing/polishing process.  Most of the comments that I read concur with her argument…as did I.

I completely agree with what Jane Friedman and her commenters said about reading aloud.  Kind of like changing the font and the page layout, reading out loud makes you see the text of the story in a different way.  I think maybe your brain receives the information differently when it is heard rather than read.  I can read the same chapter twenty times, skimming it over in my word processor, but when I start reading it aloud, all of a sudden I hear the poetry of the text (for lack of a better word).  How it flows, how the sounds fall, how the sentences roll off the tongue…or get stuck on it like a piece of dog fur.  Like the others noted, I get a sense of where I get bored, or where the descriptions don’t work, or the dialogue sounds clunky or repetitive…or even those places where I accidentally wrote in inconsistencies (“Wait, she’s sitting down, but a paragraph ago she was standing up….”).  It’s also great for catching typos that I would otherwise unconsciously ignore.

But the post and comments got me thinking about something else.

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