Posts Tagged With: themes

What To Look For When You Read

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!

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Things I Learn From Reviewing Your Books

I started reviewing books long before I started my blog and they started as an exercise in analyzing books to improve my writing. Boy did that help! The difference over just a year in my writing is amazing! This is all thanks to my hubby, Marc. He suggested it.

For awhile my reviews were just of things I checked out from the library, which were all traditionally published books. The first few, I did as a long  English-class type book report. That got old fast. After that I started an easy and kind of fun review on my phone. I texted my email with a concise and meaningful few sentences that comprised my review. Some of these are on Goodreads, expanded a little to remove my personal code for some common things.

For you, I do a longer review and a deeper analysis of what I’m reading. I focus on:

  • What I really liked about the book
  • What I thought didn’t work, described with kindness
  • What your themes are and whether they came through or not
  • Some of the character highlights

The things I learn:

I learn a whole lot about you! What you write, though it may be fiction, is coming out of your heart and imagination. (This was one of my fears when first publishing, because it is a huge leap of faith to give the general public a piece of my brain!)

I learn about what I like to read and what doesn’t work for me. My “Never Do” list and my Quotes came from reading library books and taking notes on things that I liked and things I did. Most of them were there and I see them everywhere.

I learn about the universal themes that grip you as a writer. They are everywhere. Betrayal, forgiveness, loss, loneliness, these are just a few. I can then transfer my favorites to my own writing. Your writing also shows what is best and worst to you. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t, but it all affects how I shape my own beliefs. If I don’t agree with you, it forces me to figure out why. If I agree, I see your perspective on the issue.

I learn how your mistakes look in my writing. I make many many many of the same mistakes and seeing them in another’s work is like seeing in a mirror. This is one of the best ways your writing improves mine.

I learn the way someone else writes the same thing I am writing about. Talking to some writer friends, we agree that, given the exact same story idea, we will all write a completely different tale. My story of a Vampire Chick will be similar but also radically different from yours. Even formula books will be completely different. Nobody writes like you, or me! Doesn’t that make you feel special?

That isn’t all either, but how long are you really going to spend reading my post?

If you are writing, you should be reading. If you are reading, you should be analyzing the reading in some way, whether through conversation or reviews. If you aren’t you are missing out on a treasure trove of learning about your own writing craft.




Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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