I don’t understood why some people never re-read a book they enjoyed. I’ve found that if I liked it the first time, odds are I’ll like it even more the next time around. I discover new things and I appreciate the author’s skill as I recognize plot points they’ve set up that pay off later. A lot of people say (myself included) that you learn more by reading a badly written book by seeing what not to do than by reading a good book—the argument being that if the writer is good it will be harder to take apart what they’ve done well. I’d like to amend that as I’ve come to realize that while it’s true you don’t necessarily notice the skill a good writer wields because you are caught up in the story, you can see it if you read the book again. And again. There are some books I have re-read a dozen or more times. Some favorites I read every year. Sometimes I just dip in and read a scene I love. Re-reading good books can teach you what to do because it’s easier to focus on the details when you already know the story.
I’ve been re-reading the third book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Sharing Knife series, Passage, and came across this brilliant piece of dialogue that I thought I’d share.
“It’s a good system,” agreed Fawn “for malices. Not so sure about it as a system for people.”
“Hm.” He rolled over and stared at the tiny pricks of light coming through the holes in their blanket-tent, held up by the ragged roots. “You do have a way of stirring up the silt in my brain, Spark.”
“You saying I cloud your thinking?”
“Or that you get to the bottom of things that haven’t been disturbed in far too long.”
Fawn grinned. “Now, who’s going to be the first one to say something rude and silly about the bottom of things?”
“I was always a volunteerin’ sort of fellow,” Dag murmured, and kissed his way down her bare body. And then there was some very nice rudeness indeed, and giggling, and tickling, and another hour went away.
I love the voice, the intimacy, the way these characters compliment each other. They are a half of each other’s whole. They are from two different cultures. Fawn is from farmer stock, while Dag is a Lakewalker. Lakewalkers fight malices and have psychic abilities. Each culture views the other with suspicion and fear. A Lakewalker marrying a farmer is taboo for both cultures so we need to see their intimacy, understand how they fulfill each other’s mental and emotional needs in order to believe that they can make a relationship work and that it’s worth it for them to go against a world that wants to tear them apart. Studying a passage like this shows you what good dialogue can do. I encourage you to re-read a book you’ve enjoyed and discover the secrets it can show you about great writing.