How to Read Like a Writer: Narrowing Focus to the Specific Book

Reading Like a Writer II by Maria L. Berg 2023

How was your week? Did you try reading like a writer? I noticed I’m already reading differently.

Choosing the Novels

I thought of another way to choose novels to read and study. When my novel is finished, edited, and polished, I’ll be looking for an agent. Once I find some agents that are looking for manuscripts like mine, it’s a good idea to read the books by authors they represent. Why not start now? My first draft done, I know my genre, and what my book’s about, so I have all the information I need to begin imagining who my dream agent might be. So the next step is to look at their website and see what books they represent.

Not sure how to get started? There are lots of great resources online:

Poets & Writers has a searchable database
Agent Query has a quick search and also has a great online community for authors
Publishers Marketplace tells you which agents have recently made publishing deals
Manuscript Wish List on Twitter is a great place to read from agents what they are looking for.
Writer’s Digest does a series called New Agent Alert

So instead of feeling overwhelmed by a mountain of books to read when my novel is ready, I’ll find books represented by agents who interest me now, while I’m revising, and also make a habit of looking at these great resources for writers.

Reading Like a Writer

Last week, right after I published my post, I found a blog, Professor Nicolosi, teaching Mike Bunn’s essay “How to Read Like a Writer.” There’s a free download of the essay if you’re interested.In the essay, Bunn says “When you Read Like a Writer (RLW) you work to identify some of the choices the author made so that you can better understand how such choices might arise in your own writing.” Something to think about. For every word, or line, or scene in the novel, the author made a final choice from many, many choices. Would I have chosen something else? What might some of the other choices been?

The novel I read, and will be studying this week, is the Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. It is the seventeenth book in the Inspector Gamache series. The books take place in a small town in Quebec, Canada called three pines. It’s the first book I’ve read that talks about the pandemic and how it effected daily life. Amazon has recently made a series of Louise Penny’s earlier books in the series. Every two episodes is one story. Each of the novels appears to weave tragic historical events into the fictional murder, showing how evils of the past seep into the present. Because the characters and setting have had such longevity as to keep people reading through seventeen novels and make it to the screen, I though I would focus on character and setting as character while studying the novel. My goal is to find how the author makes her characters so compelling that the reader wants to continue to read about them again and again. I’m going to take a look at last week’s questions and see which ones will help me focus my study.

Reading Like a Writer III by Maria L. Berg 2023

The Questions for this week:

What about the first paragraph drew me in?
What do I think the book is about from the first paragraph?
Does the first paragraph present characterization, energy/tone.
mystery, and emotional bedrock?
How would I rewrite it/improve it?
What did this novel teach me about beginnings?
How can I apply it to my own novel?

*I’m curious to see if the opening of the book makes me care about the characters right away.

How is the main character introduced?
How is the main character first described?
Is it just eyes and hair?
What’s the most interesting/memorable detail?
What is a single word to describe the main character?
How would I rewrite the description?
What did this novel teach me about character introductions and
How can I apply it to my own novel?

*This group of questions is interesting this week. How does the author introduce that main character for the seventeenth time? How does the author present a character already so well known to the reader.

What is the first line of dialogue?
What is the main character’s first line of dialogue?
Did it reveal the main character’s main concern?
Did it foreshadow what was to come?
Does it showcase the character’s personality?
How many words is it?
Does it have a surface meaning and a deeper one?
Does the dialogue reveal character, support the plot, hit the emotional theme, escalate the tension?
Does the main character have a unique voice/way of speaking?
Do I like this first line of dialogue?
How can I apply what I like to my own work?

*It looks like all of the questions that were inspired by The Linchpin Writer by John Matthew Fox are just as relevant when focusing on characters in a series. But now I’m going to skip ahead a bit.

Do any characters die?
How did they die?
Was it foreshadowed?
Did I care?

What is the main character’s premise?
Do I relate to the character? How?
Was the character likeable? Why?
How do the main characters grow from pole to pole?
Is the dialogue in conflict? Does it further characterizations? Does it further the story? Is it fresh and colorful?

What is the main character’s core temperament?
How does the reader know that?
What is the main character’s character arc?
What is important in the character’s backstory? How does the reader know that?
How do others perceive the main character? How is that presented to the reader?
How does the main character speak and move that is unique?
What are the main character’s assets?
What are the main character’s faults/flaws?

Time to Experiment

I’ve narrowed my questions to character. That doesn’t mean I won’t also learn about plot, pacing, and emotion, but I want to see if having a specific focus helps me read like a writer.

Do you have a technique for reading like a writer? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

5 thoughts on “How to Read Like a Writer: Narrowing Focus to the Specific Book

  1. lillian here….from dVerse. I think it was you who joined us for a few moments at OLN LIVE today? If so, glad to have you stop by! We had folks from Pakistan, UK, Sweden, India, Kenya, and the US today. Our Thursday OLN LIVE session included Pakistan, Sweden, Kenya, Canada, the US, and Trinidad Tobago. We’d love to have you come again and possibly read aloud one of your poems or, again, just to listen in. We’re a friendly bunch! We have live sessions, one Thursday and the following Saturday, every month. Thursday’s session is always 3 to 4 PM EST; Saturday’s session is 10 to 11 AM EST. Hope to have you drop by again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, lillian! It was me, and I was attempting to listen-in, but my internet connection is frustratingly bad, and kept cutting out and pausing as people read. I will try again. Thank you.


  2. Pingback: How to Read Novels Like a Novelist (RNLN): Kindle Edition | Experience Writing

  3. Pingback: Reading Like a Writer Attempt 2: The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny | Experience Writing

  4. I enjoy reading like a writer, and I teach my students who are interested in writing to do the same. I’m especially interested in some of the questions you pose about the beginning of the novel because I feel that is an area of weakness for me as a writer; it always takes me a few revisions before I reach the “right” opening.

    Liked by 1 person

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