Reading Like a Writer

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Woman Reading a Book at HomeWelcome back to Firsts in Fiction, loyal listeners! This week marks the much anticipated return of Heather Luby! For those of you who have waited so patiently to see her on video, now is your chance. Check out the YouTube video below, or watch it here. This week, we look at how to read like a writer. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Find Steve and Heather and Aaron on FacebookTwitteriTunes, and Stitcher. You can find Al on Facebook or on his blog here.

This week, I’m using Heather’s awesome notes as our show notes. Hooray for Heather’s hard work!

What does it mean to read like a writer?

Instead of reading for content or to better understand the ideas in the writing, you are trying to understand how the piece of writing was put together by the author and what you can learn about writing by reading a particular text.

The goal as you read like a writer is to locate what you believe are the most important writerly choices represented in the text — choices as large as the overall structure or as small as a single word used only once–to consider the effect of those choices on potential readers.

Then you go one step further and image what different choices the author might have made instead and what effect those different choices would have on readers.

How is it different than “normal” reading?

Most of the time we read for information or pleasure – but when you read like a writer, you are reading to see how something was constructed so that you can construct something similar yourself. Maybe you could call it “reading like an architect” or “reading like a carpenter”

Why is it important to learn to read like a writer?

As a writer, and having written things ourselves, we are betting able to “see” the choices that the author is making in the texts that we read. This is in turn helps us to think about whether we want to make some of those same choices in our own writing, and what the consequences might be for our readers if we do.

Here are some questions to ask.

  • What is the writer’s purpose?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • In what genre is this writing?

If the text you’re reading is a model of a particular style of writing–for example literary or thriller–reading like a writer is particularly helpful because you can look at a piece you’re reading and think about whether you want to adopt a similar style or other techniques.

Then ask:

  • Where would I go with this story?
  • Why did the author do this? What are they telling me?

When an author makes a move that we didn’t see coming or didn’t anticipate – pay attention!

Also ask:

  • How effective is the language the author uses? Why?

Beyond this I always recommend – Reading to INFORM what you are writing. This means reading things that may not be in the same genre, but are important to build research and background. Imagine reading non-fiction books about the subject you’re writing on–be it grief or suffering, hope or perseverance, bike riding or snorkeling. But don’t forget to read books within your genre. Understanding genre tropes and reader expectations is of vital importance. By understanding these tropes, you’ll know which to embrace and which to twist for maximum effects. Reading a wide range within your genre will give you a good sample of different novels and how they handle the tropes, and what the reader response is to those choices before you decide to do something similar or different.

As always, thanks for listening. Until next week, good writing.

4 Comments on Reading Like a Writer

  1. Ryan Rodriguez | May 22, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Reply

    This is true! Normally I just pay attention to details of the story, not bothering to go a little more in depth with it.

    • Thats crazy I ever realized you can read like that Ill try that the next time i read another book Thanks Gansky !

  2. Heather Oxley | May 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Reply

    i’ve always heard the term “reading like a writer” but i never understood what they meant on a detailed level. i wonder….is reading many books and then combining their style of writing subconsciously considered reading like a writer?

  3. Jeremy Grigsby , creative writing | May 28, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Reply

    This was a fascinating topic an I never relished you could read like this but now that I’ve heard about it I see that I tend to do the same thing

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