J. L. Harland • September 15th 2018
As we’ve said before, reading is an essential part of being a writer. Through reading other people’s work, we subconsciously absorb the language used, the rhythm and flow. We admire the twists and turns of the plot, the lyrical language, the way they portray characters. It’s all part of the writer’s toolkit. When you read and become carried away by the story, it means that the writer has managed to weave that bit of magic that draws you in. Do you remember being lost in a book as a child? Are you still able to do that? If a book can make you laugh, or cry, then the author has succeeded.
The next step is analysing how that magic has worked. What made that story so memorable? We tend to think that character is important. How did the writer build that character? Sometimes, less is more. Think of the last story you read that you really enjoyed. What way was the protagonist described? Was it a full head to toe description or a vague outline where the reader had to fill the gaps with their own imagination? Chances are that some details are given, enough to make the reader visualise that person, but also leaving plenty of room for the individual reader to provide that ‘readerly gap’.
Do you prefer to read the book or watch the film first? Remember the frustration when your personal image of a character is different from the actor playing the part? Once you have seen the film your image of that character is set.
Analysing the plot outline is also a useful exercise for a writer/reader. Take each chapter and see where the highs and lows occur. How does the author hold your attention so that you want to keep on reading?
What was the last book you read that was unputdownable? How did you feel when you had finished reading it? Take that book, go back and make notes.
Reading is one of life’s great pleasures. Reading like a writer is a different way of reading. Try it and see what you think.