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.