How to read to become a better writer?
Reading and writing are a package deal. For most of us, our love of reading has pushed us towards a passion for writing. It is not surprising that reading can help you improve your own writing. Of course, there is a catch. You cannot simply just read as you normally would, you have to actively read. You may have heard this type of reading referred to as analytical or critical reading. This type reading requires you to focus on every part of a story while also paying attention to the structure as a whole. It involves interpreting a story and understanding other possible perspectives. So what exactly does analytical reading entail? Here are some ways to get yourself into the habit of analytical/critical reading.
Start with a Preview
Do some research on the author and on the book to get a general understanding of what it might be about and how it might be set up. Afterwards, skim through the book, reading a few words on each page or even the first or last sentence of each chapter. Yes, this will go against everything you believe in, but remember, it is all for the love of writing so don’t get angry with the spoilers.
…and a notebook, if you are not a ‘write in the margins’ type of person. You will want to underline (or write down) any words, phrases, sections, or elements that seem significant. Also, write down any questions that pop into your head.
Language and Storytelling
Pay attention to the language the author uses. Think about why they might choose certain words over others. Also, consider how the author chooses to tell the story. Take note of anything that stands out about the language, format, or the way the story is told.
Connect and Relate
While reading, note any connections you can make both within the story and outside of the story. If you read something that reminds you of something that happened in another book, movie, article, or even in your own life, write it down. Making these connections can help you develop a deeper understanding of the story, author, and possibly of the source you are comparing.
Try to break the story down into parts. Doing this can help you see how the author chose to structure the book and you can see how everything flows together. Point out the conflict, characters, themes and anything else that may stand out to you.
It can be helpful to spend time summarizing each chapter, even if it is just in your head. Start with each chapter, then summarize after a few chapters, and then the story as a whole. Summarizing allows you to remember what has happened and helps you keep track of important information.
If at any point you come across something that could possibly mean something other than its obvious meaning, write it down. Whether it is just a word or a whole scene within the book, it could be important to remember for later on. These hidden meanings can lead to sub-themes that some readers may not catch without taking the time to analyze the text.
Reflect and Discuss
Taking the time to sit down and reflect on what you have read can often lead to a better and deeper understanding of the story. Whenever you get a few minutes free to really think about what you have read, take advantage of that time. You should do this after reading a few chapters as well as after finishing the book. Also, if you have the opportunity to discuss the text with someone who is also reading it or someone who is relatively familiar with it, it can often lead to seeing things from a new perspective and clear up any potential confusion.
It may seem like an overwhelming way to take all of the fun out of reading but I promise, once you get the hang of it, it can be exciting to see what you uncover within stories. You may be wondering how all of this could possibly help with your writing. Well, when you develop the habit of finding deeper meanings in books you read, it reflects into your own writing. Think about it, all of the stories you have ever read and what you have taken from them helps to shape the writer you are today. If you are able to dive deeper into those stories and allow yourself to take as much as possible from them, then you are molding yourself to be an even stronger writer.
~ Writestream Contributor Kristyn Fetterman