Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reading Like A Writer

Whether you write novels, memoir or short stories, one thing that can help you improve your writing is to learn how to read like a writer.

After many years of writing, teaching and developmental editing, I no longer read for pleasure. Instead I read like a writer, which I find more fun than the old way I used to read.

So what does it mean to read like a writer? This is when you read in order to critique. And when we say critique, we aren’t talking about whether you’re liking something or not. It’s all about analyzing and dissecting what’s on the page. The goal is to unlock the secret of what the writer is doing successfully and turn the book you’re reading into a sort of textbook of creative writing. Analyzing stories in this way is a skill that you can develop if you’re motivated. And the next step after recognizing these inner workings in the writing is to try and apply them to your own work.

This isn’t stealing or copying from a writer—this is learning.

Reading like a writer is sometimes referred to as a close read. You’re mainly focusing on answering the question, “What is the writer doing here?” You’re digging deep and noticing all kinds of things, including:

~ How much time the story covers
~ How the timeline is employed
~ How many chapters there are

~ How chapters begin
~ How chapters end

~ Style
~ Diction
~ Where scenes are taking place

~ How the story begins
~ How the story ends
~ Paragraph breaks
~ Techniques used
~ How characters are depicted
~ How exposition is handled
~ How suspense is employed
~ Pacing
~ Point of View
~ Parallel stories and subplots

and much more.

I also do this when I’m watching a TV show or movie. If I’m losing interest, I try to figure out why. Usually it means there’s some kind of inherent weakness in the story or in the protagonist’s motivation, which causes a disconnect. It’s useful to try and think of how you’d fix a film to make it better or perhaps marvel at how well it’s working on all levels. This actually enhances the pleasure and entertainment factor for me. And the fact that I’m usually learning something new or getting validation about something I already know is a bonus.

So try it the next time you read a book or watch a film. In future blogs posts I’ll give specific examples of what to look for with passages from novels as examples.