There are few things that I always share with Challenge members each year because they are critical to your development as a writer and bear repeating. One is to find a writing group so that you can continue your development through the feedback from others. Secondly, to read, read, read the kinds of stories you want to write. Let’s deal with the latter today.
It’s not enough just to read. You have to read like a writer. What does that mean? It means reading to develop a deeper understanding of the craft of writing through other authors works. Let’s take a look a what you should be looking when you read like a writer.
Openings are important to a story. Gauge your response to the opening of a piece. Did it draw you in, did you find yourself with a desire to keep reading or did it you find it a struggle to engage in the story? Openings can have different objectives, but the one thing they simply must do is be interesting enough to capture our attention and beg us to read on. We should pay attention to how authors open their stories. Think about the effects that different kinds of openings have and analyze how the writer creates those effects.
An ending of a story is your last opportunity as a writer to bring something to the story that will resonate with the reader, to leave them with something that is going to stick. When reading a story, we want to be able to articulate how the end of a book makes us feel. How did that writer create that feeling within us? What tricks of language, plot, thought, image, etc. did the author use to give us a specific experience that resonates with us long after the ending?
A story often moves secretly to an ending that resonates with something we didn’t anticipate. We think the story is going in one direction and then things change. A writer will often raise a certain expectation in their reader and then reverse it in the end to catch the reader of guard. If you are reading like a writer than you want to move back through the piece after feeling the impact of the story ending and find everything in the middle that makes that ending possible.
Writers move words about on the page, paying attention to syntax and structure. When we read as writers, we should highlight the sentences that make us laugh, make us weep, make us uncomfortable and make us feel at ease. We want to examine these sentences and think about how the author made us feel through the arrangement of the words in the sentences. We should also think about how those sentences work together to create a particular mood or atmosphere.
We shouldn’t be afraid to take note of passages that don’t please us. Likewise, we should always be aware of pieces that are made up of satisfying parts but that don’t add up to a satisfying whole. Think about how a writer got off the track. Think about what he or she might have done differently to create a more satisfying piece. Think of other artistic choices that might be more in service of what the story intends. Start thinking the way writers do when writing, considering this move and then this move, etc. as they go through a trial and error process of determining the choices that will best allow the piece to resonate with the reader.
When we get in the habit of identifying options and effects in the works of other authors, we start to adopt ideas that we can put to work in our own writing.
Check out our Writer’s Resource page, you’ll find a broad range of books including both creative nonfiction narratives that you can read and examine for further learning and some of my favourite instructional books that help you in learning the craft.