John O’Hara said it best: “Becoming the reader is the essence of becoming a writer.” It’s no secret that reading a lot can supplement your writing—exposing yourself to different styles and subjects expands your scope of what is possible and what you can achieve. Learning to read like a writer is key to improving your craft (and getting publishing contracts!).
If you’re serious about your writing career, reading like the average book lover doesn’t cut it. Yes, it can be a great mental relief for someone entrenched in writing day in and day out to unplug and skim the surface of what they’re reading.
But writing that is read as fluff is seldom remembered, and even more seldom is something gained, except maybe a few chuckles and a slightly fuzzy feeling at the conclusion.
When you read like a writer, the various elements of a piece become more apparent. You search for the secret inner workings of a book, story, or poem. You dig deep to find the nuts and bolts, and you fiddle with them until you understand the invisible mechanisms that pull readers along.
Some writers can’t not read like a writer. It’s similar to a film editor who can’t relax and watch a movie without analyzing every single cut and transition. But if you’re not quite sure how to read like a writer, here are a few key elements you can look out for:
Character – Do you find the characters dynamic and compelling? Are you rooting for them or looking forward to their downfall? A well-developed character feels like he or she is sitting next to you while you’re reading.
Pay attention to the subtle techniques the author uses to flesh them out. They’re not always obvious, but they’re there in the dialogue and the showing (not telling!) of their personality ticks.
Plot – If you look hard enough, you can identify the elements that make up the plot structure of a compelling piece: conflict, plot points, rising action, conclusion, etc. Ask yourself: What about this plot appeals to you, and how specifically can your writing convey this same thing?
Style – Every writer hopes to develop an identifiable style like the literary greats. The trick is to not copy their style, but rather consider what makes their style so unique.
Jack Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness style sprang from a rebellion against the meticulously structured style of his time. Hunter S. Thompson’s style was just as wild, high-strung, and delirious as his personality (don’t do drugs, kids!).
Consider the origins of each writer’s style, then think of how you can infuse your writing with your own personality and experiences.
Insight – Want to write deeper, more gripping, more compelling descriptions of character, setting, and action? Your ability to make unique connections, draw unexpected conclusions, and offer something truly different is key.
The idea of writing what you know is borderline cliché at this point, but it still holds true. When you know your subject—and when you’re fascinated by it—you can pass your insight, perspective, and, of course, fascination on to the reader.
So, take a good hard look at how your favorite authors tackle their subjects. Can you feel their passion for their subject matter? Do they offer dazzling new insights? If so, how? Let the books you read challenge you to see the world in new ways.
Of course, reading for entertainment is perfectly fine and not all books have deep-set nuggets of wisdom in them anyway. Still, one of the best tricks a writer can keep up his or her sleeve is becoming a sponge for all things related to craft. What have you read today?
If you understand the important relationship between reading and writing, Writer’s Relief wants to consider your work for our submission service. Learn more about how to submit your books, stories, poems, or essays for consideration!