Reading Like a Writer
All writers are readers at heart. For most of us, our love for storytelling spawned from the joy of reading stories. Readers look at books from a birds-eye view, falling in love with characters and plots. Writers, however, need to do not only that, but also analyze the way the story is told. It can be tempting to fly through every book on your to-be-read list or reread your favorite novel again, but if you want to improve your craft, you have to take a step back and read like a writer.
Things to Do
Here are some things to consider when picking books and preparing to read.
Read Different Genres & Styles
Some authors avoid reading their own genre for fear of being influenced, and other authors only read their own genre.
The problem with the latter is that you don’t permit yourself to explore other styles. Allowing yourself to read genres other than your own helps you blend the line between genres in your own writing, making it all the more unique. Of course, it is equally as important to read your own genre. Discover how tropes can be rejuvenated and what clichés draw no emotion from you. It is more than okay to be inspired by the writing of your fellow authors, so long as you don’t plagiarize!
Read the classics and the books that were published last month. Read bestsellers and own voice books. Read series and standalones. Find out what you like or dislike, and more importantly, find out why.
Read Everything Twice
Okay, you don’t have to read everything twice, but it will certainly help.
The first time around, you can focus on literary elements: the plot, characters, and setting. Your initial read will give you the opportunity to analyze how the author develops the theme and mixes up tropes.
On your second read, you can analyze the literary devices. Now that you know about the big plot twist, you can see how the author foreshadows it. How is the story paced? What makes you read some scenes quicker than others?
Do this in whatever format works best for you. Maybe keep a journal (digital or physical) with two sections: things you liked and things you didn’t. If that doesn’t resonate with you, you could keep separate sections on different aspects of writing, such as literary elements and literary devices.
The important thing is that you keep organized notes that you can refer to when you are revising and editing your own writing. Reading allows you to pinpoint what you need to change in your own novel, so take advantage of that. If an idea comes to you, make sure you don’t forget it by writing it down.
Questions to Ask
Here are some questions to ask yourself while reading.
How Do You Feel?
The best books will make you feel something with every page. This may be a subconscious fear for what will happen to the characters or a burning desire for two characters to get together.
Try to make yourself aware of everything you feel. Would you have felt the same pain if a death scene was written from a different POV? Would your joy be as prominent if details of the setting hadn’t been included?
Consider how your attachment to the characters or your investment in the plot affect how deeply you feel the emotions given off by a scene.
What Is Your Favorite Part?
If you read the book for the roller coaster of a plot, with unforeseen plot twists after every few chapters, analyze the way the story is paced. Look at the hints the author drops. Think about why the first chapter made you keep reading and why the last chapter satisfied all your questions.
If you fell in love with the relatable characters, consider the strengths and weaknesses that make you empathize with them or look up to them. What physical and verbal quirks does each character have that make you fall in love with them?
If the writing style caught your attention, think about how rearranging your favorite quotes would not have the same impact. Do certain words or phrases have two (or more) meanings? Analyze the usage of figurative language.
Did You Have To Read Anything Twice?
I know I said you should read everything twice, but what I’m talking about here is the scenes that require multiple readings to understand what is going on.
There may be sentences so convoluted that you have to figure out what they’re actually talking about. There may be chapters written in flashbacks and flashforwards with no transition between time periods. There may be enough head hopping to make you give up trying to figure out who is telling the story.
Unless any of this is done intentionally and with good reason, things like this make you want to put down a book or skip that part. At the very least, they harm your reading experience and your understanding of the plot.
If you find parts like this in a book you are reading, analyze them. How could they have been rephrased to get the point across and be understandable? Trying to improve other people’s writing can help you avoid the same mistakes when working on your own works.
The goal of this post isn’t to make reading a chore, but to help you utilize this hobby to improve your craft. Don’t lose your love for reading or writing in your journey to combine these two arts.
Instead, analyze your passion for storytelling and your love for words to hone in on your skills.