Reading Like A Writer

Reading Like a Writer

We sit down at the computer each day ready to write. Our fingers dance across the keys and we’re sure that we’re writing the best thing (or sometimes the worst..haha) ever written. But when is the last time that you sat down to read? Not to read for ideas or because your favorite author finally released the next book in their series, but to really read. The kind of reading where we break down each chapter, scene, paragraph, line, word choice.

You see, to be a writer you absolutely have to write. It’s kind of in the job description. But the very best way to grow as a writer, and become the kind of writer you always dreamed of being is to read like one. This means keeping an active and questioning mind as you read. 

Let’s break it down into a few parts, so that the next time you read you know which questions to ask. 

Dialogue: Readers love to read dialogue, so don’t disappoint them with lame sauce dialogue. When you read an interaction that rocks ask these questions:

  • What about this exchange felt real? 
  • What about this conversation pushed the story forward? What added to the story tension?
  • Did it answer any questions you or the character had?
  • Did it give you new information? 
  • How did the author tag the dialogue? How often did they tag the dialogue?

Rhythm: Each writer’s voice has its own rhythm. Each story also has its own rhythm. So ask yourself:

  • What’s making the rhythm here? Is it word choice? Pacing?   
  • What kind of rhythm does your own writing voice have? What makes it that way?

Word choice: I’m a bit biased because I’m originally a poet, but seriously consider putting effort into your word choices. 

  • If you’ve only ever heard a word, but you’ve never read the definition, then take the time to look it up. Its definition might surprise you. How does the author make the most of word choice in this story? 
  • Take connotation into account when you choose a word. It matters. How does the writer make the connotation match with the characters/mood/tone/scene? 
  • Take the time to think about how each of your main characters talk. If they all sound the same, your reader will notice. So in this book you’re reading, how does the author make this work? What phrases distinguish each character? Jot them down. How can you do the same thing in your WIP?
  • Make sure that the word choice matches the emotions of the scene. Is this true for the story you’re reading now? How so, or how isn’t it?

Character development: Characters or plot driven? It’s an age old question, but what’s more interesting for you reading as a writer is this: how is this author developing the characters throughout the story?

  • How are the major characters different from the beginning of the story at the end of the story?
  • Why kind of events did the writer use to challenge and change the characters?
  • How did the character’s struggle to reach their goals?
  • What were their motivations?

Chapter breaks: Did you know that these also help create tension in a story? Well, now you do 🙂 So examine the story you’re reading. 

  • How do they use chapter breaks? 
  • Where do they break the scene?
  • How does this make you want to turn the page?
  • What can you do to maximize your own chapter breaks?

Imagery: They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Well I hope not, because there can only ever be one Charles Dickens y’all.

  • What images did the writer include? 
  • How did they describe things?
  • What did they leave out?
  • How did your mind fill in the blanks?
  • Does the scenery fit the story? How so, or why not? 

Other pointers: 

  • Takes notes- Don’t lose the sentences or paragraphs that hit you in the feels. Mark it, or jot down the page number so that you can come back to it again and again because stringing the right words together is it’s own kind of magic. 
  • Reread books you’ve already read- There are more books in existence than you can ever read. So why not reread the books that spoke to you. There was something special about it, otherwise you wouldn’t keep thinking about it. Reread it and see if you can identify what writing techniques they used to make it awesome in the first place. 
  • What other pointers can you think of? 
  • What other questions do you ask while you’re reading a book?