On reading widely and the power of titles

May 10, 2013
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Stephen King 2max On reading widely and the power of titlesIt was Stephen King who said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Simple as that.” And let’s be honest, Stephen King is a frood who knows his shit when it comes to the writing caper. In all honesty, I can’t imagine anyone trying to be a writer without a voracious appetite for reading. All the writers I know are basically pathological readers – the kind who will rip your head off if you keep interrupting them near the end of a book.

I remember getting in trouble at school once because I was reading before the start of class. I even remember the book – it was, appropriately enough, Stephen King’s “It”. I was a teenager, technically sitting in a classroom in my high school in Camberley in the south of England, but I was actually miles away in Maine. Slowly, pushing through the story, I became aware of the sound of my name. Then again. And again. I was so near the end of this great book and someone kept calling my name. So rude! Eventually I looked up with a terse, “WHAT!?”

It was my teacher, trying to get my attention because the bell had rung, she had arrived, everyone else had their work books out, and I was still in Stephen King’s head. The whole class laughed at me, the teacher scowled at me and I spent the next few hours until lunch with a burning pain in my chest because I needed to finish that freaking book!

I tell this story to illustrate what I think it’s like for most writers. Of course, it’s like that for all those other voracious readers out there who don’t have the accompanying and equally powerful need to write. But for writers, I think it’s essential. Readers don’t have to write, but writers have to read. Reading, man, it’s the dog’s absolute bollocks. Best thing out there. Nothing like a good book.

When it comes to being a writer, the other thing about reading is that we should read as widely as possible. It’s important to read outside the genre we write in too, just to experience all those other styles and storytelling techniques. I do read mostly in the genre I write, but I try to stretch out as much as possible. Reading every kind of fiction and non-fiction, even newspapers and magazines, it’s all good for the wordy parts of your brainmeats.

westerns 300x300 On reading widely and the power of titlesWhich brings me to this. Check out those three sweet books I picked up in a thrift shop today. They’re hardback western novellas/short novels and were only $5 each. Bargain! I love a good western. I finally turned my hand to the genre with my western ghost story, which I’m very pleased to have sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The story is called Not the Worst of Sins – I’ll be sure to let you all know when it’s published later this year. For that I read a lot of western fiction and developed a new found taste for it. I’d read it a lot when I was younger, but had fallen out of the habit.

When I saw this stack of books in the thrift shop, I had to get some. There were a dozen or more, all $5 each, and I managed to resist the temptation to buy them all. Mainly because I couldn’t afford them all. So I decided I’d treat myself to three. Then I had the brain tease of picking which three. It all came down to the titles. So it’s worth bearing in mind that titles really are strong selling points for books. I’ve been paying much more attention to titles these days – even if I choose a single word title for a work, it has to be exactly the right word.

So out of that stack of books I chose these three purely based on cool titles: War at Wind River sounds exciting, and I want to know why a river is named Wind. Five Guns South sounds like a posse tale, with five gunslingers heading south for some reason, maybe on the trail of a bad guy or gang. And Red Silver! because it’s a contradiction of sorts and it has an exclamation mark! I’m guessing maybe a massacre of some sort, maybe in a town called Silver. Bear in mind that I deliberately didn’t read the back cover blurb on any of these. I picked titles that excited me and I’m looking forward to being surprised by them. Hopefully pleasantly surprised.

So the message today for all you word-wranglers out there is read voraciously, read widely and pick your titles with as much care and consideration as you give to all the other words in your work, if not more!

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Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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