Saturday, April 19, 2008


I am giving up my Saturday blog this time to guest blogger and award winning author, Earl Staggs,-and I couldn't be more delighted.
Check out his awesome cover...

Till next Saturday,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris


Earl paid his dues in the writing community by serving as Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies and one of his stories brought home a Derringer Award as Best Short Mystery in 2002. His latest short story, “Battered,” is currently online at

The second edition of Earl’s novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER has just been released and is available for ordering online at For a signed copy – or if you want to read Chapter One first – write him at

Don’t Read Like a Reader

Being a good writer is not enough. There are too many good writers out there, and let’s face it, the competition to make the best seller list is tough. To make it to one of those few slots at the top, you have to be better than good. To do that, you have to continuously strive to become better at the art and craft of writing.

One way to become a better writer is to change the way you read.

Most writers are also avid readers, and there are many people who read but don’t write. Some read for escape. They want a break from everyday life by immersing themselves in a life created by someone else. Nothing wrong with that. Others read because they love language and how gifted writers use it. Nothing wrong with that either.

There are other reasons why people read, but reading for any of the reasons most people read will not make you a better writer. To improve your writing, you have to stop reading like a reader and learn to read like a student of writing. If you're a student of writing, you read for awhile, then stop and think about how the author manipulated you.

Yes, manipulated you.

Think about it. Why did your pulse rise during that action scene? Why did you feel sorry for one character and hate the other one? Why did you want that character to triumph? How did the author make you feel like crying? You may discover you felt the tension and excitement of an action scene because the writer used short sentences with strong action verbs. You might realize you empathized with one character more than another because the drama in the character’s life were similar to the problems we all experience. There are many ways a skilled author can manipulate you, and if you can identify them, you can improve your own skills.

The fact that you loved, hated, cried or cheered at different points in the story wasn't accidental. Whatever emotion you felt was a result of the author’s choice of words and phrases and use of pacing, action and dialogue. It was careful wordcrafting, masterful management of your emotions and thoughts by someone who knew how to put the right words in the right order at the right time to manipulate you into thinking and feeling exactly as he or she wanted you to think and feel. If you think about and can figure out how another writer was able to accomplish this kind of manipulation, to bring about the emotions and thoughts you experienced, you may learn something that will help you in your own writing and make you a better writer. Of course, you don’t want to adopt another author’s style. Most certainly, you don’t want to copy their wording. There’s a law against that. Your goal is to learn the techniques of manipulation used by expert writers, then marry the principles of those techniques with your own writing style.The up side of reading like a student is that you will become a better writer. The down side? It can take some of the fun out of reading purely for enjoyment, relaxation, or escapism.But, hey, we have to make sacrifices if we want that best seller, don't we?


Morgan Mandel said...

Hi Earl,
Hope you have a good time today at Acme Authors Link.

Morgan Mandel

Jan Christensen said...

Food for thought, for sure, and excellent advice.

Hope the second addition does well for you. What a journey it's been.


Jan Christensen said...

Food for thought, for sure, and excellent advice.

Hope the second addition does well for you. What a journey it's been.


dtswtr said...

Yo Earl,

Valuable advice for any writer who wants to know the "secret" of best
selling writers. A few writers I know read a book twice, first time for enjoyment, second time for study.

Conrats on second printing of MEMORY OF A MURDER.
Dee Stuart

Peggy said...

Hi, Earl,
Great advice. I have my creative writing students actually type the story verbatim and then give a report on its manipulation and the author's writing history. After that, their final story is measurably better than their first story (written prior to the reading exercise.

Congratulations on your second edition of MEMORY OF A MURDER. Can't wait to read it.
Peggy Brown

Anonymous said...

Nice going, Earl -- good advice, good photo (you sexy devil, you!) and good book cover. Is that what they call a trifecta?

Good luck with the new edition. Sounds like a rock band, eh -- The New Edition.

Never mind. Good luck with MEMORY OF A MURDER in its new incarnation.

Pat Browning

Mark said...

Great advice, Earl. As always, you nailed it. Great cover, too.

Caroline Clemmons said...


This was one of the best blogs I've read. You concisely and deftly made your point. Great advice.

Good luck with the second edition of MEMORY OF A MURDER. The new cover is much more intriguing. And let's hear more about the next in the series, hmmmm?


Debra St. John said...

Thanks for visiting, Earl! We're so glad to have you.

Rachel Downs said...

As always, your comments are so helpful. You have given me a lot to think about and work with. Thanks for the blog. Hey, where is that Stetson?