Tuesday, February 2, 2016 | By: HiDee

Learning to Read as a Writer

Spread out on my table, the printed draft of my novel is colorful. It’s filled with typed comment bubbles, handwritten notes, and highlighted sections that mark passages I need to clarify, facts I need to verify, and loose ends that need resolved.  Colored pens, highlighters, and post-it notes – all tools of my trade – are within easy reach.  But after hours of editing, I can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right.  Something is still missing from my draft.

My bookshelves are full to overflowing with writing books containing suggestions on how to tackle
every aspect of writing.  While helpful at times, I’ve reached the point that reading about how to write is not the answer.  I need to experience first-hand how my favorite authors handle the craft of writing.

Armed with an open and curious mind, I’ve selected a variety of books to read for craft.  I plan to be a sponge, absorbing how some of my favorite authors balance things like point of view, narration versus dialogue, and telling versus showing.  I want to discover how they draw the reader in. What do they do that causes the reader to emotionally invest in their characters from page one?  How do they maintain the secret ingredient that captures attention and refuses to let it go?

While searching for suggestions on how to read for craft, I discovered a post on The Center for Fiction by author Gabriel Roth, who notes that there are at least three different ways to read a novel: as a reader, as a critic, or as a writer. He offers the following words of advice for reading as a writer:

With every sentence you read, you have to ask: Why did the writer do that? What could she possibly hope to achieve that way? This character is annoying -- what’s he for? Why am I reading faster than I was a few pages ago? How did we get to the point where I’m interested in all this crap about hunting/topology/the glove industry?

Because the writer you’re reading is solving problems right in front of you, and those are the same problems you’re going to face when you sit down to work tomorrow. And it’s going to feel like the waiter is never going to come, and two more bodies just turned up by the docks. Better be ready.

Great advice!  Apt description for a writer feeling lost in where to go next, what to do, and how to do it.

So now the real work begins.  I’m ready and eager for my brain to absorb what is necessary to solve my novel story problems.

What do you look for when you read for craft?  Please share your tips!


Angela Adams said...

For me, it's all about the characters. Does the reader care about the characters, and what happens to them in the story?

HiDee said...

Yes, and what do you do to make the reader care? Thanks for stopping by, Angela!

J. Arlene Culiner said...

Yes, being a sloppy soppy sponge sounds like my profile, all right. I don't know if I can put my finger on what appeals to me most: jumpy but elegant writing? A character I love? Perhaps it isn't even important what happens in a story - there's no great action in an Anita Brookner book, but the result is always dramatic.