Some people read for plot and sometimes plot is a lovely addition to a piece of writing, sort of like discovering that the dinner you have ordered comes with a little pot of cole slaw.
When I read – which is whenever I can – I read for the words themselves. I like to tear hunks of prose right off the bone and chew them slowly.
I have a friend who skips passages of description but, for me, they can be the best parts of a novel, taking me into an entirely different world, sketching cities and countries I’ve only ever seen in pictures. Somehow, with words, everything is even more alive, because words inhabit the empty, echoey cavern of my head.
Mostly, though, I read for characters. I want to find out about people without having to talk to them myself. Novels allow me to stare at others in a way life does not. I want to see what happens inside the characters’ heads. For me, it can be a way of understanding people (albeit made-up people) who think differently to me or act differently to the way I do (or think I would).
It’s the same with writing. I use the characters I create to explore decisions that are not mine and would not be mine. I try to make sense of words I would never say. I make characters do things I don’t agree with and say things that make me shudder with revulsion. I think my characters are never less loveable for this – but more. Written with tenderness, almost everything can be examined and, for me anyway, accepted.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I am freed of having to think up a plot. On the contrary, the characters I write can only have life given to them if there are situations for them to struggle through, turns to negotiate and events to worry over.