Friday, December 4, 2009


I've discovered I read differently now I'm writing. Once I would simply open a book and read. Now I open a book and analyze.

I pay attention to the beginning: Is the first sentence dialogue? Is it throwing me right into the middle of the action? Or is it what I term a 'soft' beginning where I'm introduced to the characters and start to learn about their particular quirks?

I take note of dialogue: How is it written? How many dialogue tags are there and what are they? Does the author use 'said' or 'says' or are many characters hissing and whispering? Can I easily discern which character is talking and if I can, why can I? Is it vocabulary choices? Different rhythms?

Descriptive passages get my attention as well; what vocabulary is being used? Can I easily imagine the setting? How often are other senses invoked other than sight? I relish books that allow me to smell the cooking or feel the pinch of a new pair of shoes. How much time is spent describing the settings is also interesting. If I'm reading a book that bounces from place to place then I want a description of each location so when the story returns there I know where we are. If the book takes place in one location then let me know the layout, especially if it's a mystery.

POVs also capture my interest. How many are there? Is one character more dominant than the others? Is there one character that seems particularly quiet and if there is, why is that? I've read several books where the protagonist is written in the first person and the rest of the POV characters are written in the third.

Lastly, I look at the thickness of the book and take a moment to appreciate how long it took the author to actually write the sucker. I just finished a book with a page count of over 1,4oo. My brain fries at the time it must have taken to write. I happen to know that this particular author had the cover of the book design delivered while the book was still being written upstairs on her computer. Can you imagine the horror? Obviously, she finished it by her deadline, but that must have been a chilling moment.

I still can get swept away by a great story, but part of my mind is analyzing why I'm getting swept away. I pay attention to the plot's pace. Does it begin with a flurry and then slow to a snail's pace? Is the ending rushed? I read a book this week with a rushed ending and my first thought was "Ah, the deadline approacheth..."

Do you read books differently now? I look at every book and think "What can I learn from this?" How about you?


  1. Elspeth - You and I are very much alike in this! I, too, do get swept away when a book is well-written, especially if it's a new author or title. I almost always wear my "writer's cap," though, when I read. When I read something I think is well-written, I ask myself, "What did s/he do that makes this such a great piece of work?" How can I learn to do that?" When I read something I don't like, I ask, "What trap is that that I should I avoid?" That's why I think it's so important that we writers do as much reading as we can. We learn from one another. To me, it's a form of cooperative learning, and I'm very much a fan of learning from others.

  2. Margot; We seem to be looking at this with exactly the same attitude! I wonder if our writing styles are similar in our manuscripts?

  3. I start out reading that way, but sometimes I get so caught up in the story, I don't think more about analysis.

    One suggestion to throw into the analysis pot. Pay particular attention to the books in the genre you write that have been published within the past two years. That will give you a better picture of what editors are looking for today.

  4. Oh, definitely! I even read books I wouldn't have before to learn something new. It has broadened my horizons. But my former book discussion pals don't want to hear my new topics. "Did you see how the author use foreshadowing here to allude to ___?" or "I really liked the use of this character to represent sacrific, almost Christlike..." Some non-writers just don't get it. Oh, well.

    Great post!

  5. I totally read books differently now that I write. And I'm much (much!) more likely to chuck one aside after ten or twenty pages (or even 100). Life's too short and there are way too many good books to read!

  6. I definitely read books different now. I analyze them, esp. the ones I like and sometimes go back to see how they revealed information or phrased things, and try to learn from them.

  7. I don't usually start out reading with a critical eye, but as I move through a story, I do pick up on many of the elements you mentioned. And a couple of times, when a book has absolutely swept me away, I've finished it and started a reread the very next day. The 2nd read, I'm more critical, absorbing, noticing things I might have missed in the first read.

  8. Interesting. For me, the analysis required by my job in accounting/finance can play a part in how I read. If I don't know why or how to apply a certain financial transaction I don't just drop it and move on I have to figure it out. I find if I don't understand a passage or think there is a contradiction I will keep going back to it and then either figure it out or finally force myself to move on. On the weekends when I'm more relaxed I am less likely to read in such a high edit mode.

  9. Unfortunately, it's taken a lot of the enjoyment out of reading for me...sometimes I look at it as research. :(

    I'm not so bad when I read other genres, but it happens there, too. I'd like to just happily get caught up with no backstage thoughts.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  10. i just read a book. not analize how the author did it. but posibly i analize the story with the time it was writted (social)

  11. Yes, I do read for the things you mentioned and it ruins the experience. I want to "just read" and not worry about POV or anything else. Alas, not the way it happens now.

    Best Wishes, Galen.

  12. Michele; It seems to come with the territory, doesn't it? I've learned not to talk about writing to my non-writing friends, it bores them to tears!

    Alan; I get fed up fast, too! But then, as I say, I'm old and cranky.

    Carolyn; There's always something to learn, isn't there?

    Joanne; You've made a good point! Sometimes the second time is the time for analysis.

    Sheila; Good for you that you can stay and puzzle; it drives me mad. You obviously have more patience. I'm rather envious.

    Elizabeth; You're right, it's not the same when I read other genres too. On the other hand, if it's really good I will try and figure out why.

    Karen; Good for you that you can get swept away! That's what good books are for.

    Carlos;Some books are marvelous portraits of their time, aren't they?

    Galen; I think it's a hazard of the job. We need to mourn and move on.

  13. I guess for editors and writers, years spent working with words have given them such a keen mind that allows them to distance their imagination(which keeps them absorbed in the story)from their analytical mind(which disects and probes into the technical details of the composition itself), while keeping both working at the same time! I'm dumbfounded that you still manage to be sane with a mind like that. I could just imagine, how like me, many of them would require monthly supplies of painkillers at for those migraine attacks.

  14. Cyrille; I don't know about having a keen mind, but I do notice I can enjoy the story and figure out why at the same time. The jury is still out on the matter of my sanity. Thanks for the comment, hope you drop by again!

  15. Boy can I identify with this discussion. I struggle when I read because I can't stop analyzing.

  16. Sylvia; Glad you liked it. I love your new blog...snazzy!

  17. I know exactly what you mean. I don't read books anymore, I dissect them.

  18. I am with Patricia and many others who have said they pick apart books. I also do that with movies to figure out the plot and to look for the clues (if it's a mystery). Did they plant clues early enough or at all?

  19. Interesting post :) I think it depends on a variety of factors. If I'm tired, stressed or reading an old fave, I'm purely a reader. Most other times, I'm a reader/writer. I notice things, but try not to overanalyze. Takes the joy out of the book.

  20. Patricia; I'm glad to have another person in my world. That's a wonderful way of expressing it: dissecting.

    JW; I pay attention to the writing in movies. Exceptional performances by actors also get my attention (I'm a member of the 'less is more' school.) Watching a mystery? Watch the camera. They didn't do that close up of the whatever for nothing.

    Jemi; Glad you liked it! I'm with you on old favourites; I just revel in them! Regardless of how much I analyze, I'll never stop finding joy in reading.

  21. Yes, I do read differently now but I wish I didn't. I miss the days when I just read for the fun of it.

  22. Oh, absolutely! I can't read a mystery novel without analyzing, critiquing and editing. The red pen is in my hand (or at least in my mind).

    I find myself saying "I'd have written it like this..." or "I would have made this character more..."

    I often get a lot out of this becaue the things that I dislike or that don't work, I am alerted to and steer clear of them in my writing.

    Hwever, I must say that as I've been writing in recent years and have just been published, I read less fiction (or any sort). I seem to save fiction for doing-producing.

    When I want to curl up with a good book, it's more likely to be non-fiction or a classic. I am less likely to "edit" either of those types f books and can therefore just sit back and enjoy...

    Cheers, Jill
    "Blood and Groom" is now in stores!
    Check out the trailer

  23. It depends what I'm reading, and for what purpose. If I'm interested in learning more about supporting characters, for example, then I'll pay attention to the supporting characters. If I'm stuggling with something like backstory, or am getting caught in "info dumps", then I'll look to see how other authors control backstory. When I had first started to query chick lit agents, I read more of it to familiarize myself w/ the genre (despite writing it, I was reading much of it, interestingly enough).

    But when I wanna just read for the pleasure of it, then I try to turn that off.

    The worst was when I took Stylistics in grad school. Still the best course I ever took, and the one I probably use every day. For months during and after that class, I couldn't read a cereal box w/out analyzing the style. Imitating someone's writing style is a lot like learning Clapton's guitar riffs or Ringo's drum fills -- it makes you better at what you do (I'm currently having fun w/ Sorkin's for a present for my wombmate, heehee...)

  24. Jane; Those were good days, weren't they?

    Jill; I understand the allure of the classics. I'll sit down with books written by authors I admire and just swim in the pages. Glorious!

    Elisa; We can learn so much from other authors! That class sounds interesting! I've never tried to write like Mr. Sorkin, (although I'd love to give it a go), but I can do a fairly decent Jane Austen.

  25. Someone told me when I first started writing to enjoy reading while I could because soon reading would become more like "work" than fun. Now I see what they mean. It's still fun...but it definitely feels like it's related to work.

  26. I don't think it has ruined it for me. I remember that feeling in university (I went really late) but now I don't have it so much. I just let myself in and hang out in the mind of the author. If I am paying attention it is usually (in my opinion) because the author isn't that skilled. I might notice it a bit more with mysteries but I still get totally lost in them. Afterward, I might think about the craft of their writing but not in it. Yet.

  27. I usually get swept away by a good book. When it's poorly written I tend to analyze JUST WHY it suck so bad. When I'm done reading a book I'm crazy about, I go back through and figure out why it captured me so. I set about studying what the author did to blow me away to such a degree.

    Did I say, I love reading? Always have always will!

  28. It's even worse when you're working as an editor, this need to analyze everything, but I also feel that my ability to question and deconstruct and actively engage with the structure of a piece of writing is one of the joys of my life.

    It's also one of the reasons I'd far rather discuss with other writers how a book works than be in a book group of non-writers. Maybe we do think differently. I really enjoyed this post, Elspeth. Come post for me at WOMEN = BOOKS.

  29. Stephanie; I wish someone had warned me!

    Jan; Oh goodness! Reading at university...good grief. I had to read so many plays, etc. that I insisted on reading Agatha Christie for fun. Because it was fun and I wasn't busy looking for foreshadowing, irony, etc.

    Elizabeth; I'm the same, if it's bad I have to figure out why it's bad. I love reading too! I can't imagine not having a book on the go.

    Martha; I would think working as an editor would exacerbate the situation! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm honoured you've asked me to post. Send me an email about what you would want. My address: ejantonelliATgmailDOTcom


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