Being an author takes a lot of time and commitment. Depending on how fast an author can craft clean copy determines how much time they must dedicate to the various steps of finishing a manuscript. Perhaps an author is a fast writer, which might require them to spend more time editing. On the flip side, maybe an author agonizes over each word as they write, which might take longer to get through a draft but requires less time editing. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of writing and editing, there is one activity you should also dedicate some of your time to. What’s nice about this activity is that it can often be relaxing. I refer, of course, to consuming stories.

Read universal stories with wide appeal.

While we encourage writers to pursue the stories they want to tell, if these stories only focus on wish fulfillment or other narcissistic tales, their audiences are likely to be limited to themselves. Reading other stories helps to give insights into how other writers approach topics with a broad appeal. Don’t discount the “popular” books for being shallow cash grabs. These stories speak to a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds. Similarly, classics can provide timeless stories that are universal for their staying power. The more classics and popular stories you can read, you’ll be better able to adapt these techniques to your own writing. Your vocabulary will improve and you’ll find the innate story structures for each genre will come more naturally to you.

Many writers who are starting out worry that reading too much will subconsciously cause them to plagiarize what they’ve read. They worry about being unoriginal. As long as they’re not copying and pasting content and passing it off as their own writing, it’s not plagiarism. Even writing fan fiction can be considered original, even if the world and characters are from well-known stories. Heck, even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies uses unmodified sections of the original Jane Austen work and is considered original. In fact, most publishers will want “comp titles” or books that are close enough in their plot that a writer can compare them to the manuscript they’re pitching. This is why reading in the genre you’re writing is critical as well. Being wholly original is nearly impossible, so writers should at least read enough to know what their stories are most like so they can let readers know what to expect.

Stories are everywhere.

I will admit that I rarely have time to read. Juggling a full-time job and a family, just finding time to write can be difficult, let alone reading a book for dozens of hours. Audiobooks have made consuming stories easier for me over the years, but I also found that stories are the backbone of most forms of media. We may fault ourselves or others for only consuming television, movies, or video games, but those writers with a keen eye for a good story can both enjoy these different storytelling mediums and consume stories at the same time. It is more important to experience a story that speaks strongly to you than to bicker about how that story is presented. I often find my creative tank refilled when I experience a superb story through a movie, and maybe you do too.

There are tons of great stories in movies…some of which are similar enough to connect together.

I’ve already covered a handful of reasons why video games are important for writers. With many games now having intricate and well-developed stories, we are in a golden age of video game storytelling. Case in point, the video game Hades was the first game to win a Hugo Award for its writing. Television has also provided us with many enthralling stories recently. Writers should pay attention to how each episode of a TV show can act like a chapter in a book—spooling out bits of plot across multiple character arcs and providing enough of a hook at the end of an episode to have the viewer continue watching. Across multiple seasons of a television show, writers can see how a series of books could have similar story structures (with The Expanse being the best example of this). Even if you don’t have time for TV, a few hours of a movie can be useful to understand tight storytelling. It’s no wonder that many short stories end up being perfect to adapt to a movie format: there’s less that has to be cut. Hollywood has made quite a few stories by Philip K. Dick into movies, and one of Ted Chiang’s stories was made into the superb sci-fi movie, Arrival (2016).

A love/hate relationship.

Not every story out there is great. Personal tastes can differ, and what might be a great story for you might be something that someone else hates. What’s important about consuming stories is being able to get a sense of why you like or hate them. Everybody is going to have different criteria they use to determine how good a story is. Even if you’re consuming stories passively—which might be an impossible feat—a part of your subconscious is going to recognize when a story is working and when it isn’t. For me, when I’m watching a good movie, I’m inspired to write my own stories. Alternatively, when I’m encountering a story I don’t like, my broken suspension of disbelief will continually find things wrong with the story until it’s done. The important thing for writers to consider when critiquing these stories is how to put the inspiring parts into their own stories while leaving out the broken parts from the stories that didn’t work for them. After all, if writers are to be creating new stories, they should at least gain a leg up from good ones and avoid pitfalls from bad ones.


What is your favorite story? Is it from a book, TV show, or movie?
How many stories do you consume in a week? A month? A year?
What do you like best in a story? What do you hate the most?

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