Here are some of the things I look for and analyze while reading. Keeping these things in mind has really helped me to get more out of my reading, write better fiction, and easily write reviews.
- Why did the author write this book? At first a story may look like its face value, but there is usually a deeper story behind it. What is it really about? Why does the author tell this story other than to weave a tale? Authors are often sharing profound and personal things through their writing.
- How does this story progress? Every form of art tells a story and has several key parts. The starting state of innocence, The problem that presents itself, the climax of the problem–often a tragedy, the creative response to the tragedy, and the resolution. Where are these in the book and what are they? These are the story’s bones and can often open up a lot of the underlying meaning.
- What grips me about this book? Scenes, characters, dilemmas, and other parts of the story engage the reader. I try to discover what they are and why they capture my attention and emotions. (If you are having trouble with that in a larger story, reading Manga or other short story forms can sometimes give you a jump start.) Analyzing this helps you to write things that you love!
- What universal themes does the author use? Universal themes are just themes that are common to mankind. Betrayal, loss, overcoming adversity–these are universal themes that everyone understands. Why does the author use them and how do they move the story?
- What in the author’s or characters’ culture is the same as or different from my own? Culture isn’t just racial. Everyone has a different culture within the groups in which they live: region, religion, shared experiences, and profession are all some non-racial cultures. Understanding culture differences can expand your understanding and your writing.
- What are the flaws in the writing? Are they my personal opinion or something others will agree on? Admit it. Writers all have them (even ME!). I’m not saying to be hypercritical, but noting where the story failed can help you learn more about yourself and avoid the same mistake in your own writing. If you overlook them, you can pat yourself on the back for being “nice” but you may not learn anything from it.
- How would I write this differently? How would I change the story if I were the main character? This often isn’t a matter of mistakes but different points of view. I spend a lot of time pondering this when I read a really engaging book. Often you can create an entirely different story based on your differences. (But please don’t plagiarize!)
If I can think of more, I’ll make a future post. What things do you look for when you read?
Completely unrelated, I’ve noticed that a lot of my posts happen between 8:30 and 9:00. This is the sweet spot between my littlest’s bedtime and the two older kids’. Often after 9:30 my brain switches off so this works for me!
Helpful and thoughtful information. Thanks.
I look for stories to either meet or exceed my expectations.
When I am feeling extra inventive, I stop reading before the final act and then I write my own finale… The way I would want the story to end.
Then I open the book and continue from where I left off.
I love when a book not only exceeds my expectations, but surprises me too.
Fun post! Thanks!