How to Read Novels Like a Novelist (RNLN): How a Craft Book Can Influence Reading a Novel

RNLN by Maria L. Berg 2023

The concept of this series of posts is to stop reading craft books, learning from other writers’ chosen examples, and learn from novels, choosing my own examples. However, I had one craft book from the library that I hadn’t finished, Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee. It’s very good, and I noticed examples of some of the things I read in the book while I read this week’s novel, Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey, as a novelist.

Choosing the Novels

Though I have lists of books and somewhat of a plan for an order of what I would like to read and study, I am already learning the importance of being flexible. One of the main issues for my reading list is availability. My hold on Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng became available so A Widow for One Year by John Irving is getting pushed back another week.

I signed up for the second section of the Wesleyan University course “The Modern and The Post Modern” on coursera.org. The novel for the that section is To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I don’t think I’ve read it, so I’m excited to get to that one after Irving.

Reading Novels Like a Novelist (RNLN)

So this week I’ll be focusing on what I’m learning from Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee. It covers a lot more than spoken dialogue. He explores dialogue as three modes of talk: said to others, said to oneself, and said to the reader or audience. He says the three functions of dialogue are Exposition, Characterization, and Action. As you can see, his study of dialogue covers all the aspects of a novel.

Though the book covers more that just dialogue in the traditional sense of quoted speech between characters, I thought I would also focus in on the questions from my original list that have to do with dialogue:

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?
Do I like this first line of dialogue?
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?
How can I apply what I like to my own work?

Is the dialogue in conflict?
Does it further characterizations?
Does it further the story?
Is it fresh and colorful?

Through this exploration, I will hopefully have a whole new list of questions inspired by McKee’s book.

The way Dialogue influenced my RNLN got me wondering if other craft books will influence my reading as well. One of my main goals for this project is to learn how to evoke emotion in the reader, so I think I’ll re-read my copy of The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass while I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng to see if the craft book helps me focus on finding useful examples in the text that will help me improve my writing.

Learning to Evoke Emotion by Maria L. Berg 2023

It’s All Coming Together

I keep talking about enjoying the synergy of my studies, but this week’s serendipity was pretty funny. Last week I mentioned the fun fact that Henry Mancini wrote the theme song for Remington Steele which I’ve been enjoying on Amazon Prime Video. I didn’t realize when I chose Unspeakable Things for RNLN that it was set in the eighties and went a little nuts with the pop culture references mentioning Remington Steele many times. 😄

How to Read Novels Like a Novelist (RNLN): Kindle Edition

Reading a Novel in Kindle

Last week I “won” my first physical book (other than a coloring book) from Library Thing. Won is in quotes because it is actually an exchange for my volunteer labor of reviewing the book, but they call it winning. The coming book that will arrive in my mailbox is a poetry collection which I’ll need to read carefully for review, so I thought it would be the perfect specimen for a new segment of this experiment: Reading Poetry Like a Poet. Then I thought what I’ve been doing is more specific than Reading Like a Writer. In Bunn’s essay “How to Read Like a Writer”, he was talking about reading non-fiction more than fiction. No, what I’m doing is Reading Novels like a Novelist. So for the sake of specificity, I’ve decided to change the names of these posts going forward, and thus the new acronym will be RNLN which I found out stands for the Dutch Royal Navy, but I don’t think that will cause confusion.

Choosing the Novels

After playing with all the great note-taking features in Kindle, I thought of all the Thrillers I’ve collected through the Amazon Prime First Readers program that I haven’t read because I have trouble staying engaged with e-books.  I thought that reading like a novelist might change that, so instead of moving on to taking notes in an old paperback, I’m going to stick with Kindle for another week.

To pick which one to read, I decided to take my own advice and choose one that may help me in the future by looking at each one for hints that it could be a possible comp (comparison to my novel) and for possible agents that I might want to query.

I chose Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey because it’s description says it was inspired by a true story from the author’s home town, and takes place in a small community. So it could be a comp. Her agent is Jill Marsal who is the founding partner of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and represents many bestselling authors. Her webpage says she is actively looking for new projects.

Reading Novels Like a Novelist with Kindle

For some reason I couldn’t get the Project Gutenberg .mobi file to load onto my tablet, so I used Kindle on my laptop to read it. It turned out to be a good thing because using the horizontal format, I could have the notebook feature open at the same time as the text, and search, and also see the function of the flashcards. All fun, simple, and useful tools.

You may already know all of this, but it is new to me, and part of my new processes of reading novels like a novelist, so I thought I would share. Skip ahead, or skim if you already take notes with Kindle.

Above the Library button, if you click on “View,” there are some options. The first thing I tried, near the bottom of the list, was  Color Mode. There you have the option changing the regular reading mode from a white page to a Sepia, or more aged, pinkish hue, or to a black page with white lettering. I stuck with black type on the white page.

Let’s go through the note-taking options I found reading in kindle:

  • bookmarks
  • Go: location ctrl+g
  • search
  • highlighting
  • color-coding
  • notes
  • notebook
  • flashcards

bookmarks: the bookmark  is the small ribbon with a plus-sign in the right corner. To bookmark a page, click on it. I always thought this was just to hold my place when I closed the application, but reading as a novelist it proves to have other useful functions. Under “View” above Color Mode you’ll see “Bookmarks.” When you click on it, it opens the notebook and shows you all of the pages you’ve bookmarked with their location. This gave me an idea: use the bookmarks to mark the expected locations of main plot-points. Madame Bovary has 6161 locations (it’s one of those files that doesn’t show page numbers, but I checked with a different book, and this works for pages as well), so I cut that in half and book-marked it, then cut it in half again to get my quarter, and three-quarter points, and book-marked those. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but they lined up with major plot points of the novel: The big party, the clubbed-foot surgery, and leaving the church for the carriage ride.

Go: location ctrl+g: Next to “View” at the top left of the page is “Go.” And the last thing in that menu is Location. You can quickly open the location window by pressing control and the letter g at the same time. Once there, you can quickly get to any location in the book which comes in handy when you want to review your notes, or go to the different locations that you find when using search.

search: This wonderful function that is accessed by clicking the magnifying glass on the left of the page. You can type in any word or phrase and every instance in the text is listed with its location. Since the abstractions I’m looking at are beauty and ugliness, I searched for them. Searching for beauty in the novel Madame Bovary got me thirty-eight matches to beauty and beautiful. Typing in ugly came back with four matches to ugly and ugliness.

highlighting: highlighting in Kindle is simple, hold the button on the mouse and scroll over the text. Once you have selected the text, a menu appears, giving you four colors to choose from, an option to Add a Note, Copy, look it up in the Dictionary, or Search. If you decide you don’t want to highlight the text after all, click on the white part of the page. If you have highlighted text and want to remove the highlight, click anywhere in the highlighted text and click on the colored circle with the X in it.

color coding: as I mentioned, there are only four colors to choose from: pink, orange, yellow, and blue. Before starting, it’s a good idea to have a plan, because an organized color-code can help with other features. Remember, you can use bookmarks for plot points, so that offers a fifth option.

notes: It’s a good idea to leave yourself a quick note as you go. Click anywhere in your highlighted text and click Add Note. Then type in the box and click save. If the notebook is open, you can type a note under the text in the notebook.

notebook: In the right top corner of the page next to the bookmark symbol is a rectangle that says “Show Notebook.” On the right hand side will now be a list of everything you’ve highlighted organized by chapter and location. At the top of the notebook under the words “Notes and Highlights” it says “Filter by,” if you click on the arrow after All Items, there are options to look at your Bookmarks, your notes, and sort your highlights by color. There are little stars on each highlight, so you can choose certain ones and then sort by Starred. And if you’re connected to the internet, you can look at what most people have highlighted and compare that with your own. You can add notes to each of your highlighted texts if you haven’t already.

flashcards: Next to the words “Notes and Highlights” in the Notebook there’s a rectangle that says “+Flashcards.” This is a fun feature that will take anything you have filtered in your notebook into flashcards: a really great tool for studying for an exam. There’s a symbol of overlapping rectangles under the magnifying glass on the left hand side of the page that brings up your flashcards and will show them to you so you can quiz yourself and mark what you got right and wrong. I’m not quite sure how I want to use this function for reading novels like a novelist, but it’s something to think about. Do you have any ideas for how to use the flashcard function to be a better novelist?

I think you can probably see why I want to read and study another novel on my kindle next week to explore all of the interesting tools and how best to use them.

Reading Like a Novelist in Kindle

It’s All Coming Together

The draft for my novel that I wrote during NaNoWriMo last November came from the idea of incorporating my study of contradictory abstract nouns into my characters. I really like the idea that the big conflicts in life come from the fact that abstractions that all of us think we understand like love, beauty, happiness, wisdom, and truth, are actually undefinable, and defined differently by everyone, and always changing.

My study into contradictory abstractions is helping me see the big picture in a new way. I can see how my interests in music, art, science, history, and philosophy overlap.

By reading Madame Bovary for my modernist class, and as a novelist, I can see that overlap plainly. Like meeting someone you’ve never seen before, then seeing them all over town, the moment I finished the class lectures on Madame Bovary, the novel started coming up all over my other reading.

In ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound he says, “An attempt to set down things as they are, to find the word that corresponds to the thing, the statement that portrays, and presents, instead of making a comment, however brilliant, or an epigram.
Flaubert is the archetype.”

Later he says, “If you want to study the novel, go, READ the best you can find. All that I know about it, I have learned by reading:” and in his short list he includes Madame Bovary, though I believe he intends for us to read it in French.

I was excited to find a book called Painterly Abstraction In Modernist American Poetry by Charles Altieri in my library system, but was having trouble getting into it. But after reading Madame Bovary I found it referenced in the fourth chapter called “Modernist Irony and the Kantian Heritage. The second section of the chapter is all about Flaubert and Madame Bovary. He states,”No work surpasses Madame Bovary at defining the demands that eventually led European art to Modernism. Dramatically, Flaubert’s novel affords a keen critical analysis of the conditions that trap desire in the law of heteronomy.” (heteronomy: noun 1. the condition of being under the domination of an outside authority, either human or divine.) Altieri later writes, “An adequate account of the text must indicate the lines of force established by at least three fundamental factors of the writing: its complex rendering of persons, of scenes, and of the emotions they elicit in the audience; its foregrounding of the authorial act as itself a mode of eliciting and playing out desires; and its constant reminders of the artificiality or constructedness of what nonetheless capable of shaping emotions that carry over into the world beyond the specific text.

It’s this idea of art for art’s sake that was discussed in class, and also connects Modernism to Abstract Art. So I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

How to Read Like a Writer (RLW): A Novel Can Take Many Forms

Reading Like a Writer IV by Maria L. Berg 2023

I did it! I put together all my 4theWords files from NaNoWriMo into one file, formatted it into one double-spaced draft and did a preliminary spell-check to make my novel draft readable. Then I saved it as a PDF so I’m ready for my first read through on my tablet. So, my focus this week is the big picture, the large developmental edits. As I read as a writer this week, I’ll be thinking about all the possibilities for the best way to tell my story, and The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill turned out to be a great book to study as an example.

Choosing the Novels

Now that I’ve read the three novels I had from the library, I had to decide what’s next. One part of learning to read like a writer, is to learn how I want to process different formats. This week for my coursera.org course, “The Modern and Postmodern,” we’re reading Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. I’ve downloaded it from Project Gutenberg for kindle, so this will be my first experiment taking notes with kindle. If that doesn’t work for me, I can download it as a PDF and try it with a PDF editing program.

Next week I’m going to read A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I’ve had the paperback for a long time but never gotten past the first chapter or two. The paperback isn’t in any condition to pass along to another reader, so I’m going to see how highlighting and writing notes in the book itself compares to using the post-its.

While looking at my book lists I saw that The Hours by Michael Cunningham is about another book on my lists Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, so it’ll be fun to read them in tandem.

There are so many things to think about while considering a book list for RLW. (I’m trying to get used to using the abbreviation. It’s going to take a while).

Reading Like a Writer

The novel I read, and will be studying this week, is the The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill. It is a meta-novel about writers discussing writing their novels within a novel. It is also partly an epistolary novel using the letters from a correspondence with another author reading and responding to the chapters as they are written.

It reminded me a bit of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood which has a novel within the novel as well as newspaper reports.

This got me thinking about different elements that can be used in a novel. Last week’s novel, The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny, used lines from a poem written by one of the characters in different ways throughout the novel.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski tells a second story using footnotes and adds to the story with the graphic presentation of the text. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix is a novel made to look like an IKEA furniture catalogue.

I did a quick search for “unique novel formats” and found S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. S. It’s a book about two readers checking out a book called Ship of Theseus from the library. The description says it comes with 22 inserts. I just requested it from the library. I wonder how they deal with all the parts. Should be interesting.

Illuminae files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is is a teen sci-fi trilogy told through “hacked documents”: emails, maps, medical reports, interviews.

Can you think of any other novels in unique forms that really added to the telling of the story?

Reading Like a Writer V by Maria L. Berg 2023

The Questions for this week:

My main focus is structure, so I think I’ll focus on the questions inspired by How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey:

What is the novels premise?
Has the author proved the premise?
How is the premise made clear to the reader?
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 there rising conflict? Is it ever static, or does it jump?
Does the story begin at the correct place?
Do the events of the story grow out of one another?
Is there poetic justice or irony?
What is the narrative voice?
Would it have been better if told from another viewpoint?
Does each scene have a rising conflict?
Were flashbacks used? Were they absolutely necessary?
Is there foreshadowing? How is it used?
Is the dialogue in conflict? Does it further characterizations? Does it further the story? Is it fresh and colorful?
Is the writing sensual? What are my favorite sensory descriptions? Is there a good balance of all the senses?

And some inspired by Plot versus Character by Jeff Gerke:

What is the ordinary world? How is it presented?
What is the inciting incident? When, where in the book does it occur?
What is the MC’s knot (problem)?
What will force her to face it, finally take action to unravel it?
What is her old way? What is her new way?
What decision does the MC have to make at the moment of truth?
What is the cost? What is the gain?
What are the steps of the escalation: the ever larger bombs?
When is the villain introduced?
What is the first conflict/barrier the villain causes for the MC?
What is the main conflict? Man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, man vs. tech, man vs. society, or man vs. the supernatural / fate?
What are the essential scenes for the genre?
What is the plot structure?
Map the main scenes

This is the first novel since I started this study that had any romance and sex in it, so I can look at those questions from the original list:

Is there romance, sex scenes?
How did the author approach emotional love?
How did the author approach physical love?
Did it develop the characters’ personalities?
Did it further the plot?

Time to Experiment

I’ve narrowed my questions to plot and structure. That doesn’t mean I won’t also learn about characterization, pacing, and emotion, but I want my reading to help me learn the things I need for my novel revision as I do the work.

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

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
descriptions?
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.

How to Read Like a Writer: Getting Started

Reading Like a Writer by Maria L. Berg 2023

Want to up your reading game? Want to know what it means to read like a writer first hand? I sure do. And I think I’m ready. I have read hundreds of books on writing, and they all have something in common: they use examples from a variety of novels as examples of writing techniques. This year, I want to train myself to find these examples as I read novels, learn from them, and apply what I learn to my novel draft. I hope you’ll join me in the experience.

Choosing the Novels

Like me, you may be thinking, No problem. I have a To Be Read (TBR) pile a mile high. I’ll never run out of books to read, but are those the books to start reading as a writer?

There are so many novels in the world, how will I find the ones that are going to help me grow as a writer?

I started my quest by looking at lists of 100 books you should read before you die. Most of those lists consist of the same great books I have read, but I found some interesting books I hadn’t even heard of. Then I looked at the Nobel prize winners for literature, and the Pulitzer prize winners for fiction. I now had a huge list, but I doubted any of them would work as comps for my novel (Comps are books with similar premises, themes, or style to my work that I will use when pitching my finished novel). I definitely want to be reading as many possible comps as I can as I work. 

So a new approach to my reading list was to list all the authors I have really enjoyed over the years, and think about where some possible comps might come from in that list. I went through stages in my life when I would read everything I could find by one author. Who were those authors? Charles Dickens, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Mary Higgins Clark, Carl Hiaassen, Toni Morisson, Tony Hillerman, and many others.

Half of those authors already have novels on my lists, and I’ll pick one by each of the others to add. The other thing to do is to look over the best sellers in Mystery and Thriller for the last ten years and pick some of them that sound promising. The order of reading will have to do with procurement, but having a prepared list gives me hope that I won’t stray too far from my ideal.

Reading Like a Writer

Once I’ve chosen my fifty-two novels I plan to study this year, how will I approach reading and learning from each of them? What is it I’m looking for as I read each novel that will be different as a writer? How will I learn from them? I’ll have to come up with a system of questions to ask myself while I read.

The best place to start is why am I doing this? What am I searching for? Why do I want to read like a writer? What do I hope to gain by it? What am I hoping to find in these novels?

What am I really trying to learn? I think I’m trying to learn the specifics of the writing I think is good and bad. What makes me keep reading, and what makes me put a novel down? What makes a passage or character memorable, and why do I forget so many books the moment I’ve put them down? I want to find the tricks to creating emotion in the reader, and keeping the reader turning pages. I want to discover how to make my characters relatable, making the reader care for my protagonist. I want to learn how to create interesting twists and surprises. I want to learn how to give my characters unique voices so that the reader can tell who’s talking without dialogue tags.

Now that I have a more specific idea of what I want to learn from the novels I read, what specific questions will I keep in mind while I read to get to the answers I’m looking for?

The Questions

I recently read some really good craft books: The Linchpin Writer by John Matthew Fox (which I reviewed here), How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, and Plot versus Character by Jeff Gerke. I used these three books to inspire some questions to think about as I read.(The links to these books are amazon associate links, if you click on these links to buy the book, I receive some thank you pennies that are greatly appreciated).

Questions for Reading as a Writer

Do I like the title?
Do I like the cover?
How many pages, chapters?
What genre?
What format did I read?
When was the book published?
Have I read anything else by the author?
Look up the author, learn something about the author
Did I like the book?
What did I like most about it?
What did I like least about it?
What was the book about (brief summary)?
What book or movie would I compare it to?
What viewpoint was it written in?
What tense was it written in?

The Linchpin Writer points out linchpin moments to look for in every novel. It inspired these questions:

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?

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
descriptions?
How can I apply it to my own novel?

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?

Where did I feel an emotion while I read?
What in the writing made me feel an emotion?
Which technique did the author use to make me feel that emotion?
Did I like feeling that emotion, or did I feel manipulated?
Did I learn something about eliciting emotion in a reader?
How can I apply that to my novel?

Did the book elicit wonder?
Was there  something that made me marvel?
What metaphors did the author use?

Is there romance, sex scenes?
How did the author approach emotional love?
How did the author approach physical love?
Did it develop the characters’ personalities?
Did it further the plot?

How did the chapters end?
Were there cliffhangers?
Was there a variety of chapter endings?
Are there examples of the “already, but not-yet” technique?
Do any chapters end on character change?

How does the book end?
Is the ending satisfying?
Was there a surprise or twist?
Was there a second ending?

Do any characters die?
How did they die?
Was it foreshadowed?
Did I care?
How was the pacing?
What moments did the author speed up to good effect?
What moments did the author slow down to good effect?

How to Write a Damn Good Novel says every good novel needs a clear premise. It inspired these questions:
What is the novels premise?
Has the author proved the premise?
How is the premise made clear to the reader?
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 there rising conflict? Is it ever static, or does it jump?
Does the story begin at the correct place?
Do the events of the story grow out of one another?
Is there poetic justice or irony?
What is the narrative voice?
Would it have been better if told from another viewpoint?
Does each scene have a rising conflict?
Were flashbacks used? Were they absolutely necessary?
Is there foreshadowing? How is it used?
Is the dialogue in conflict? Does it further characterizations? Does it further the story? Is it fresh and colorful?
Is the writing sensual? What are my favorite sensory descriptions? Is there a good balance of all the senses?
Is there humor? Did the author ever make me laugh?
What types of specific, concrete details stood out (or didn’t) to make the story more realistic?

Plot versus Character says characters are layered like an onion. It inspired these questions:

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?
What is the ordinary world? How is it presented?
What is the inciting incident? When, where in the book does it occur?

I’m sure there are many more questions this book can inspire, but I want to get started, and my list is getting very long.

Time to Experiment

Now that I have gathered an overwhelming amount of questions and read a novel, I’ll dive back into the novel and see if these questions help me learn from what I read. It may be that only a few of these questions are useful to me, but I won’t know until I try. I’ll attempt to organize the questions for useful study, and create an efficient method as I learn. Expect a post later this week (Thursday) with my first results.

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