Things have been a bit weird lately. Part of it is just that I’m terrible at managing my time, so things pile up until I get overwhelmed. However, I’m also dealing with health challenges and the possibility of some big changes in my personal life, and having that looming over me is stressing me out. As Bilbo Baggins would say, I feel a bit like butter that’s been scraped over too much bread.
Much like my novel, my life is a work in progress. Reading too much into things makes me anxious, and I’m trying to teach myself not to overthink every little aspect of life. So I made a chore list that I’ll probably lose by next week. I tackled a project that’s been languishing for close to a month. Then I decided to take a step back from worrying about the rest and went to the library.
Writers need to read
We’ve got to keep up with what’s trending in our genres, what new tropes are out there, and what hot bestsellers might be comparable to our own work. Comps are a big part of pitching, and it’s been a while since I’ve done a deep dive into new fantasy titles. I’m way behind and I really need to get back into reading.
I didn’t pick up anything that looked like a comp on my recent library visit, though. Instead, I was looking for books to help me reconnect with myself. YA is my jam when I’m feeling lost because the characters are often searching for meaning in their own lives, so I headed for the teen shelves.
Look for the lessons
There’s almost always a lesson in a book. Sometimes it’s an overt bit of knowledge that the author planted for you to find. Other times, it’s more subtle. It might even be something the author didn’t realize they were sharing.
For writers, the lessons aren’t just whatever bits of information the author wanted to share. They’re also the way the author uses language to communicate with readers. You can consider anything from how the plot played out all the way down to the author’s word choices.
If you’re looking for a writing lesson in a book, here are some questions you can ask either as you’re reading or after you finish.
Was it more plot driven or more character driven?
In other words, did the story’s environment force the characters onto a certain path? Or did the characters’ choices determine the twists and turns in the plot? I think you usually get a little bit of both, but some books definitely lean more one way or the other.
Do you think the author made the right choice? What would you have done differently? I generally prefer books that are more character driven. Protagonists can start to feel a little weak if all of the major events in the story are triggered by external forces rather than a character’s decisions. It doesn’t sit right with me.
How did the main characters change from who they were at the beginning of the book?
If they didn’t change, what did they learn about themselves? And what did you, as a reader, learn about your own self? Good characters tend to be relatable. Great characters stay with us for a long time after we close the book.
How did the book make you feel?
Did you get a strong emotional connection to the characters or the story while you were reading? Did the book feel like an escape from reality?
If you can say yes to either of these questions, try to pin down what the author did that helped you feel this way. Engagement is one of the most important parts of writing. Analyzing stories that give you strong feelings can help you learn how to create a book that resonates with others.
If you didn’t feel anything, did you like the book at all, or did it feel like it was missing something? What did you like about it? What felt off?
Were there any passages that stood out to you?
In this case, it could be an entire scene or just a single word. Whatever it was, try to think about why it stood out. Did a character have to make a difficult choice? Was a paragraph exceptionally worded? Did it have great economy of language or a variety of descriptive appeals? Whether it’s large or small, when something grabs our attention, there’s usually a reason for that. If you can get to the heart of it, you’ll probably learn something.
Finally, how would you do it?
The last question you should always ask yourself is whether you’d do anything differently if you were the one writing a particular story. And if the answer is yes, why?
Books are full of secrets
I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things we can learn from books, but it’s probably enough for one day. Have you ever learned anything unexpected while reading? Please share in the comments if you have. I’d love to know what it was!