When you’re tucked into one of your guilty pleasure books, how conscious are you? How do you read? For me, after a few paragraphs my eyes switch off, my mind opens up the words disappear and I begin to see watch the book unfold. For me, reading is exactly the same as watching TV, it feels like I visit Neverland with Peter, or the Discworld with Rincewind, or any other of the infinite worlds in books. But I am trying to be mindful, and be a collector of sentences and excerpts.
How do you read? What happens to you?
Drifting off into another world when reading might be wonderful for the joy of the story. But it presents significant problem for me if I want to learn anything from the author.
When you read, are you reading as a reader or a writer? I always read as a reader. Allowing myself to be completely absorbed, to feel what the characters feel, smile at their wins and cry over their losses. But how do you stay consciousness enough to pick out the points you can learn from and still read like a reader?
There are the obvious things all readers like:
- Gritty multi-layered characters with hopes, dreams and faults.
- Characters being tested to their limits
- Pace – enough to keep you interested
- Story arc and a climax
- A statisfying ending
- Some kind of antagonist or bad guy
- An absorbing world
There are more, but you get my point. I don’t want to write a blog post telling anyone to suck eggs, or whatever the phrase it. These points are standard. It’s the more subtle things that I want to learn from. The nuances, the individual word choices in a sentence that give vivid imagery. Or the sentences that make me catch my breath and read faster, faster, faster because I just HAVE to know what happens. Or the actions a character takes that make me fall in love with them a little more.
There’s no magic to my method. I try to read a fraction slower than normal – hard if it’s a pacey book. I keep a pencil, highlighter or trusty index finger to hand depending on how I am reading. If on my kindle, then I use the highlighting function to highlight any I pick up. To ensure I keep buried in the book, I use my emotions as a flag system. If I smile, I check myself – why did I smile, a quick scramble back through the previous paragraph and hey presto, I just learnt a new trick. If I find myself scanning faster and faster, feeling desperate to just know, then I do the same. If I cry, if I feel anything, I stop and try and identify why.
Some of these might seem odd given you wont have any of the few hundred pages of context I had. But I thought it would be helpful to share some of the things I highlighted from the last book I read (End of Days):
- ‘…can see the frustration stiffening the lines of his shoulders.’
Why did I highlight it? I guess because it painted wonderful images, in one sentence I knew exactly how he felt, and what it did to his body, I saw and felt the emotion.
- ‘I put my hand over my mouth to keep from calling him.’
That’s the protagonist speaking, and a display of physical action showing her innocent love for the male lead. I thought it was so sweet an innocent and a beautifully honest depiction of what a teen might do to stop herself from calling out to the boy and admitting something she didn’t want to.
- ‘The October wind tugs at my hair. Dry leaves float by, lost and abandoned.’
As I admitted in my post describing my writing process I’m still developing my ability to do description. This is a great example of weaving atmospheric description into the story – plus it gives away a piece of description about the protagonist too – which can be difficult when writing in the first person.
Some questions from me to you, I would love to know the answers to:
- What do you naturally pick up on when you read your favourite stories?
- Why are they your favourite, as a writer why do you appreciate them?
- Do you collect and highlight pieces of text? If not, do you do something else to gather your favourite excerpts or ‘lessons’?