Lyon's Pen

Official Website for Fantasy Author E.L. Lyons


Reading is your best tool in improving your writing. However, I read for decades and it didn’t really help me all that much. I think I passively gained some skills, but I was reading for escape and entertainment, so I wasn’t really paying attention to the techniques being used. I wanted to know what happened next in the prose, not ponder what had just happened, much less how the author made what just happened impactful.

My advice for learning from what you read? Step 1: Read a book. 2: Decide what you think the author did or didn’t do well. 3: Read it again with a highlighter in hand (well, I usually read on my kindle, but there’s a highlighter there and the ability to add notes) and try to figure out what made those points stand out to you from cover to cover.

A well- or poorly-written character isn’t something that’s decided in a single line or even a single page. It’s not something that can be fixed or learned in that space either. It’s something that happens over the course of a book. Highlighting the areas that introduce you to the character and the areas that make you form impressions of the character can help you see how the author built that character.

The same goes for more obscure writing techniques like suspense and humor. These were two of my weakest points when starting my writing journey in 2021, and it was partly because I was looking at them in a very narrow scope.What I learned was that the suspense you feel during the suspenseful scene is founded on elements being built up before you ever reach that scene.The author gives you things to care about in chapters 1-2, shows you what the stakes are in 3-4, then in chapter 5 they put it all at risk while sprinkling in little reminders of the stakes and the things you care about. I’m still not great at this, but I’m improving. When I start to feel suspense in a book, I stop reading, ask myself why, and go back to find out how the author did this to me.

Loosley Releated

I think this slow building of story elements is also another reason why so many writers give up on plotting and outlining. If your outline is just a series of events, and each chapter is just an account of each event, you end up with a very choppy story that’s missing a lot of its guts. More on that in my outlining blog post.  

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