How to read with a writer’s eye

This is a post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand/This next suggested step for wannabe writers is, in some ways, the easiest to do. In other ways, it is the most difficult. You’ve been doing this, at least in part, pretty much your entire life. Now you’re going to do it with an eye toward discovering yourself as a writer and ensuring that this new self is as amazing as it can be.

Writer, you’re going to read.

Now that you’ve started reading books, blogs and articles about the craft, your carefree hobby of the past may feel a bit more like research. Part of the reason for this subtle transformation is due to the fact that you’ll begin to notice the style and grammar just as much as the plot and characterization. Another reason relates to the need for a writer to read both “good” and “bad” books in order to stay well-versed.

Everyone’s definition of “the good, the bad, and the ugly” will be different, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re in the pro- or anti “Twilight”-as-literature camp. What matters is that you read a huge variety. If you like a book, think about how the author made it resonate with you. If you don’t like a book, why not? What could the author have done to turn it around and make it more enjoyable or more stylistically impressive?

Read books that are critically acclaimed or winners of important awards. Read books that are commercially popular or that serve as the basis for a popular film. Most importantly, read books that are of the same genre that you would like to write.

Here’s a quick run down of novels from which I have learned a great deal, both in terms of what-to-do and what-NOT-to-do:

Beautiful, well-crafted prose: Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”
Themes that resonate: Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”
Characters that feel real: John Irving’s “Prayer for Owen Meany”
Captivating plotlines: Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”
Other worlds made real: Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”

Adverb overkill: Cecilia Ahren’s “P.S. I Love You”
Clichéd or redundant themes: (read more than one book by Nicholas Sparks)
Shallow characterization: Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”
Farfetched storylines: Gigi Levangie Grazer’s “Starter Wife”
Other worlds that I can’t get into: William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”*

Start reading and re-reading. Get out there, and make your own list.

*”Neuromancer” is a well-loved cyberpunk classic, but I, being relatively unversed in the sci-fi genre, failed to understand the world introduced within its pages. A bit of online research shows that many others have had a similar reaction. Others still adore it.

 


Emlyn Chand, President of Novel Publicity

Emlyn Chand was born with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Novel Publicity's mascot is a Sun Conure, thanks to her obsession with birds–and she gets to decide anyway since she is the company's founder and president. Although her first novel Farsighted won the prestigious Writer's Digest Self-Published Novel of the Year award in 2012 for the YA category, she now writes most of her fiction under her “real” name, Melissa Storm. Learn more or connect with her (or her Sun Conure, Ducky!) on either of her author websites:  www.emlynchand.com or www.melstorm.com. You can also friend her on Facebook, tweet with her @novelpublicity, or send her an email via [email protected].

IanB

This is also the curse of the writer. You become constantly aware of style and structure to the point where you can never entirely read for pleasure.

Apropos of which, Atonement may have well-crafted prose but I felt let down by some distinctly flimsy plot elements.

Emlyn

Atonement is actually one of my favorite books, probably because of the beautiful description that runs through its pages. Some books I read more with style on my mind and others I look more toward plot. Even when I am reading for entertainment, I definitely pick apart grammar and characterization–I even rearrange sentences in my head for better flow. So, you’re right, reading is not as relaxing for me as it once was. Oh, to be a writer…

Adam iwritereadrate

Hi Emlyn. Great article, great advice, great books suggested. Great! Will RT to my followers. All the best. Adam

Kate Evangelista

I love it! I meant the movie, by the way. Not the book. I just watched the movie and gained a bit of insight when it comes to creating. 🙂

Sara

* The writer trying to show the reader how clever they are – Ian McEwan, Enduring Love

And as much as I love Jane Eyre (It’s probably in my top 3 favourite books of all time), the plotline isn’t exactly riviting. I think you’ve been a little reductive in that area. (Everything else I’d have to agree with), but a ‘riviting plotline’ is so subjective to Genre and restrictive to character development that I don’t think you can narrow it down to a single book, due to the many different types of readers you get to this site.

Instead, I’d suggest offering ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Vogler, which outlines the famous ‘Heroe’s Quest’ in an over-arching storyline that is accessible, makes sense, and offers tips about how to go about creating a riviting story for the genre. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Writer%27s_Journey:_Mythic_Structure_For_Writers)

Regards;
~Sara

P.S. You get so many kudos points from me for naming and shaming ‘Twilight’. -Chuckles-

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