Read like a writer – Part 2

In the earlier part ‘To read like a writer’ I discussed how a writer should look for the theme and organization of a story. Let us continue this journey.

Let us strip writing to its bare bones, down past the genre, idea, theme or audience to study them at word, phrase and sentence level. A set of well chosen, well placed words create a sense of magic within the book. Look for the patterns in the language, the passion in the character, the striking adjectives. Look for;

Voice – It is the individual writing style of the author. The quality that makes writing unique. When reading like a writer, let us try to answer questions like ‘How does the author demonstrate the emotions of the protagonist’? Or how does he bring out the personality of the character? Now Wodehouse wrote in humor, using a unique blend of slang and elegant, classically-informed drawing-room English. Roald Dahl on the other is known for the devilish twists in his story.


Word Choice – What words and phrases does the author use to bring across the story? How does the author use striking adjectives, verbs, proper nouns? Evena simple ‘and’ in a sentence ‘And then he fell down dead’ creates the required impact.  Do these word choices make the story more memorable?

Sentence Fluency – the rhythem and flow of the sentence as we read it, is there a rhyme? Do the repeat in pattern? Repeating sentence structures, like

Night in the Country (1986) by Cynthia Rylant: “There are owls. Great owls with marble eyes who swoop among the trees and are not afraid of night in the country. Night birds. There are frogs. Night frogs who sing songs for you every night: reek reek reek reek. Night songs”

Conventions – Conventions are the usage of grammar, spelling and other such things that make writing consistent. Does the author follow convention in writing? Do you newer words like blacksurround, magicated etc? Are the sentence complete? Are there artful fragments and one word sentences?

The next time you read a book, pick up your pen and read like a writer.

Read like a writer – Part 1

What happens when you read a story?

The thrill of being transported to an enchanted kingdom,  the awe of being a princess, the adventures on the ridged back of a dragon and the gnawing fear before the book ends – an exhilarating journey indeed.

To be a writer, even an insipid one lacking the courage to paint true reality or the imagination to create a whole new world should read avidly.

A good book is the best writing institute, but one needs to understand how to read like a writer.

‘There is a difference’? One might ask. Yes. There definitely is.

A reader, even a thoughtful one who tries to understand not just the story but the context, theme and the underlying emotional undercurrents also looks predominantly into WHAT the writer is saying.

But as aspiring writers, we need to use a good book like a reference. To read like a writer is to move away from WHAT and towards, HOW the writer captures the story.

Now as a reader, one will question the genre of the story, infer the characters by the action in the book, feel the emotion, connect with the characters and evaluate if the story is well enough to continue reading till the end.

While a writer needs to approach a book from a completely different angle.  When reading like a writer, pay attention to  –

  1. Ideas – Look into the main idea of the book. How does he reveal it? Is it stated or implied? Look into the theme of the story. For e.g; Pride, family, prejudice, woman and marriage, society and class are the theme present in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.
  2. Organization – this refers to how the writer moves between these ideas. How does he build his characters, plot and setting around these themes. Here the writer learns pacing, sequencing and detailing. Compare a thriller and a drama for better understanding.

Part 2 of this series will conclude the other points of reading like a writer.

Creative Writing tool kit # 1. Sentence creation – Subject and Verb

Emphasize early and describe later

You may want to think of that sentence as a mantra while writing a story, a paragraph, and even each sentence.

English is written left to right. The reader forms opinion, interest and a decision whether to continue reading from left to right. Consider this:

‘The airplane crashed into the mountains, killing all its 440 passengers and crew early this morning’

The first phrase – the airplane crashed gives the information and sparkes the interest in the reader to continue reading.

Now consider this;

‘It was dawn. The airplane was carrying 440 passengers and crew when it crashed into the mountains’.

Tepid isn’t it? A writer needs to guide a reader by capturing the essence in the first 3-4 words of a sentence, and then allow the reader to immerse in the emotional onslaught with empathetic description.

On the other hand if the idea is to create suspense, build tension and make the reader wait then please save the subject and the verb until later. Fewer information and short passive writing. Long sentences create a relaxed mood, hence keep sentences short, use just phrases and show the panic.

Practice the pen

  1. Read through your favorite stories, novels, books, even the daily newspaper. Now look at how the sentences are created.
  2. With a pencil in hand repeat this to a piece of your writing.