How do writers improve their writing? Practice, obviously. But if you’re not inputting new material into your brain, you’ll continue outputting the same vocabulary, grammar, and, yes, tone. So what do you do? Easy – READ! (Not a difficult request for us, really) But WHAT to read? There’s the crux. And I’m going to blow your mind by telling you to wander over to the comics section – assuming you haven’t already.
And, no, I haven’t lost my mind. Well, I have, but not about this.
The Writing Brain
Where do you get your words and ideas from? That’s right: Your brain. And while you work hard to develop a unique point of view, you’re working with a base source of material. It starts with the words and grammar rules you spent years learning in school.
Remember English class? Yeah, it’s still floating around in your mind.
You’re subconsciously relying on old spelling bees, sentence diagrams, and book reports when you sit down to write an article, short story, poem, or novel. (Or whatever you’re putting down on paper)
Even if you’re NOT the best in the memory department, you retain the lessons stuffed into your brain. (Assuming you paid attention, anyway)
But unless you’re continuing the routine of flashcards and poetry analysis (no judgment if you are – okay, maybe a little), your work will get stale.
You have to feed new vocabulary and grammar into your writing brain.
And reading is one of the best ways to do that.
So Why COMICS?
Now, I can see you making that skeptical face. And I hear the question you’re asking, “Why in the world would I read COMICS?” (Unless you write graphic novels or the like, in which case you’re nodding in complete understanding)
But I’m not suggesting ONE type of reading material. That’s absurd. It’s actually why school systems cripple your brain. Think about it: What did you read in school? (And we’re going to overlook potential age here)
- “Classic” literature
- Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist (or anything else by Dickens), The Tell-Tale Heart, anything by Shakespeare
- Poetry you STILL have memorized
- “Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood”
- “Paul Revere’s Ride”
- Anything by T.S. Eliot (exempting Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats)
- Uncomplicated plays
- Pygmalion, A Christmas Carol, The Crucible
Different writing styles, obviously, and you get multiple dictionaries worth of vocabulary, courtesy of the eras the authors lived in. But the TONE and FLAVOR are the same. It’s (pardon me, gentlemen and ladies) DULL.
Pablum lives uninterrupted by the variety of the global population. Books chosen to satisfy an ancient curriculum. (Don’t worry, I won’t get into the political implications)
And it limits the possibilities of your writing, especially if you decide you need to stay in the book store and library sections where you find them. You get the same inflections, dialogue, and descriptions over and over.
Your brain turns to MUSH.
And it’s why I’m suggesting that trip to the comics section.
Comics = Variety
Growing up, teachers made it CLEAR that only reprobates read comics. They went out of their way to sneer and scorn at kids that tucked the floppy pages into their textbooks. If you got caught with one, you branded yourself as an idiot.
Because only morons read something THAT pathetic.
So I resisted picking up my first comic until adulthood. The disdain of authority figures left an imprint on my brain. And it hurt because I knew my father had boxes and boxes of comics from HIS youth stashed in the garage. He happily talked about various superheroes – even before Marvel or DC started to gain popularity. I hid my face when I needed to retrieve him from the comic section of the book store (before they renamed it “Graphic Novels” – which is a whole other topic).
Then I married my husband, who (of course) read them, too. And I sat through movies with appealing story arcs and characters.
So I caved.
And I found expansive worlds that charged my writing brain in ways the other books I read fail to do. Not to mention vocabularies on par with anything else I pull off a shelf. These aren’t written for people who lack reading comprehension by any stretch.
Hell, I’ve found myself hauling out a dictionary a time or two!
The characters are – at the same time – more real and more fantastic than what those “classics” exposed me to. And the underlying messages hit you in the gut. (Or what I walk away with does, at any rate)
It’s an incredible variety my brain was craving – that I never realized.
A Comic For Everyone
Comics – or graphic novels or whatever you choose to label them – are enjoying a renaissance. There are indie labels that make options for EVERYTHING. If you have a show, character, or idea you’re interested in, you can find it.
Yes, it means walking over to THAT section. And you may need to hunt around.
But when you start diving into these volumes, your brain starts soaking up rich words, phrases, and (yes) grammar. It’s a different way of looking at a story. And the addition of images creates a dynamic feast for your imagination.
It’s an incredible piece of literature (I said it, I meant it) that people are missing out on. Because of prejudice. And misunderstanding.
You need to give it a try.
And then tell me what new comic you discovered. Because I want to add to my collection!