Saturday, December 21, 2013

Active Reading Part III is here!

Welcome to part III on Active Reading. If you've missed the other two they are here and here

Why do we care about active reading? Because it helps us analyze what we like and emulate it.
When we’re reading something we really like, we should try to glean as much as we can from it. Of course a novel should be entertaining to read, but it can also be a learning experience when we analyze the text. That’s easier said than done. How do we keep from losing ourselves in the story, you ask.

Constantly ask yourself questions. While you’re reading, the trick is to find ways to emulate the author’s success. Did a certain phrase make you smile, or did a group of sentences push you along to read faster? Analyze it and take notes (yes, keep a notebook handy or be prepared to highlight or bookmark your ereader). Do you find yourself mad or sad about a particular character’s action or a scene? That’s a good thing. Analyze why the scene pulled so much emotion from you. Look harder at what works and try to see why it works.

Still afraid you’ll be lost in the story and forgetting to ask those questions? Make a book mark with those questions on it. Every time you turn the page your eyes will go to it, see that list. That’s your time to analyze. If you’re on an ereader, just have a piece of paper for your fingers to fiddle with while you’re reading. On the piece of paper have the word: WHY? Because that’s the true question – why did I like that, why did that give me feels, why didn’t that do it for me as that should have been an emotional moment.

I used to love reading a book in which the characters goal is made clear, and his or her motivations for reaching that goal are obvious and believable. It’s part of the very successful GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) approach. Those three things are key to a successful book, but they can also come off as formulaic when it’s spelled out to the reader. Nowadays, I’m really happy when I come across a novel that has put forth the GMC in a new and exciting way. It challenges me to push harder to come up with an even more unique approach to achieve the GMC. There lies the challenge. Being challenged is a good thing when you’re aspiring to become a better writer. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming that’s your ultimate goal.

One of your current goals in analyzing published novels should be to note the characters goals, their motivations and the conflict the author throws their way until you’ve mastered the process. When you've learned to spot GMC, writing GMC becomes as easy as tying your shoes, and it'll be easier to come up with different approaches.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Active Reading Part II

One of many reasons for aspiring authors to continue reading novels: To see how they did it

Reading other published works gives you examples of how to (or how not to) write your genre. If you love reading mysteries, and you decide to write mysteries, continue reading them.

But from now on, pay attention to how the authors drop hints and clues, how they lead the reader to the end with foreboding. Have you ever finished a book and said “I knew that was the bad guy.” Did you ask yourself how you knew it was the bad guy? The author dropped hints, of course. Go find those hints, mark them with a pencil or something, and emulate them until it becomes second nature. If you pinpoint what authors are doing right often enough, doing it right yourself will become more of a habit than a conscious thing.

Writing romance? You realize a romance is really dull without constant tension between the two principle characters, but how do authors weave that conflict and romance into one cohesive piece? That’s what you should pay attention to while reading. You read your genre to learn how to best write your genre.

Do you know what your weak points as a writer are? Dialogue? Description? Info dumping? Read and pay attention to how other authors are doing it. If people regularly correct your dialogue tags, read and pay special attention to dialogue tags. Have you ever had someone tell you that your description was pretty but it slowed the pace? Read and pay attention to how authors weave description through activity rather than have blocks of description. Analyzing how authors are doing it right will help you to do it right as well.

Maybe you realize your prologue isn’t a good idea, but you don’t know how to weave the world building or that backstory through the novel in a cohesive and subtle way. Aspiring authors should read published works and pay attention to how they did it. Use a highlighter and note every time you read a passage about the past. Whether it is dialogue or exposition or an internal monologue, experienced authors have perfected info dropping instead of info dumping, and you can learn from them.

Exercise: Choose a book you've already read that's within the genre you write. Read the first three chapters again, this time pinpointing the things you'd like to improve in your own writing. Highlight it, mark it with a pencil. If you're interested in improving your characterization, hone in on the authors word choice in the dialogue. If it's the MC, really dissect the language the author uses in exposition. Mark where the character makes decisions - those are telling of his or her character. Really analyze how the author placed the things you'd like to improve upon. Re-reading a book is sometimes better as it's less for entertainment, and you won't get pulled into the book as much. You'll be able to actually see the words and not the story. When you do this once, perhaps you'll be able to see these things in new novels - no re-reading will be necessary. It's all about training your mind to be discerning. The more you're able to pick up on what authors are doing right, the more you'll be able to emulate their craft.

I’m sorry this second post in the series has taken so long to be put up, but…I’ve been reading. :)
And the next post is here.