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How to read as a writer?

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Does anyone have a process or any tips on how to read like a writer? Aka: how to read intentionally and study a published work to mine it for teachable examples of what to do/what not to do?
My problem might be that I can't see the forest for the trees.  :confused2
#1 - September 03, 2019, 05:54 PM
« Last Edit: September 03, 2019, 05:57 PM by erin-beth-duddles »

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If it's a novel look at where anticipated plot line events happen for the plot and each subplot--which page--and create plot lines for plot and overlapping ones for subplots; note where you see tension; do a character study.

For picture books: type it out yourself, then dummy it out and make note of how page turns advance the plot. Look at the verbs that were chosen. Count the words in each sentence. Create a plot line and note how many words and pages are in each section of the plot line.

For nonfiction I find it helpful to look at techniques used to make it interesting and try to figure out how the author/editor determined what sidebars and back matter would be included. It's also helpful to look at how source notes and/or bibliography is handled.  I also ask myself what sets this book apart from similiar nonfiction books published 10-20 years ago.
#2 - September 03, 2019, 06:10 PM
Rebecca Langston-George
The Women's Rights Movement: Then and Now
Capstone: January, 2018

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I find this hard to do, but sometimes something jumps at me. For example, I read a passage that was all telling and could've been shown in the same number of words. Maybe think about the thing you need to work on while you read. Don't focus on reading as a writer, but rather on answering how a writer (that specific one) handles whatever it is you're weak at. For me, it would be having enough description to center the scene without slowing the pacing.)

Also, read in small chunks. This keeps you from getting so caught up in the story you forget to notice whatever it is.

I hope this helps.
#3 - September 03, 2019, 06:11 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

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Thanks for your thoughts!
This might be one of those trial and error things that everyone keeps talking about. One of those practice things.  :sigh

I gave myself unrealistic research goals and broke my fingers carrying bags of books home from the library. (No, not really. My fingers are fine.)
But now that I think about it, I was a little over-zealous, and I just made myself overwhelmed. Small chucks would be smarter. Thanks!
#4 - September 03, 2019, 08:26 PM

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:welcome Erin. You've rec'd good advice already--dissecting books, typing out text for picture books. Let me add, reading aloud.
Some books that can help you with this process are writing books that analyze stories.

Francine Prose has a book with exactly that title: Reading like a Writer.
Save the Cat Goes to the Movies (movies and novels are different animals but they both tell stories so I found this book helpful).
Don Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel cites many, many examples too.

Happy reading and writing. 
#5 - September 04, 2019, 06:34 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

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You've gotten great advice already. Here's my two cents.

If I really want to analyze a novel, I read it more than once. The first time through is pretty much for plot. Then I read it again looking for characterization, setting, theme, sub plots, etc. For me, the plot usually provides the bones or scaffolding for everything else. I need to get the structure in place in order to have the other elements emerge for analyzing.

After many years of doing this, I can now do it in one reading, but reading for pleasure and reading for analysis are two different things for me.
#6 - September 04, 2019, 07:41 AM

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You've gotten some great advice here. I agree with Pons about reading fiction for plot first, and then going back to study the way it's put together. And I was going to recommend all the same books Vijaya mentions. In addition to that, here are some specific types of questions to ask about fiction. For beginnings, why does the story start here? Could if have started somewhere else, earlier or later in the story? Does this opening hook me in? What's different for the character(s) on the day the story starts?

For pov/perspective, you might ask why this character/narrator tells the story. Try reading a few sentences aloud from a different point of view---third instead of first person, for example---or from a different character's voice. Then try switching the tense to see how it sounds.

You might try this type of question with a lot of different elements of craft for those small chunks Debbie was talking about. For me, asking what else the writer could have done is a useful question. For big picture stuff, the books Vijaya mentioned are really helpful. Most of all, have fun and don't let it stress you out! We definitely get better at this stuff with practice.
#7 - September 05, 2019, 07:01 PM

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