Most of the time when we read, we do is passively. That is, we take in the words without really thinking about them too much. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there is another way to read called Active Reading, and if you want to develop your writing skills, it’s a great technique to use. So what is active reading. Well, it’s when you think and analyse what you read as you’re going along. This includes thinking about which words the author used and whether they could have used other words instead, thinking about the way the words are used, how the sentences are structured and how these contribute to the author’s own unique style of writing. By concentrating on these issues, you can pull apart what makes the difference between good writing and bad writing, and so learn what you should do, or avoid doing, in your own work.
It’s also good to think about how the plot is structured within a book, and how the author leads the reader through it. Is this done in an effective way where the reader realises what’s going to happen just as they get to a twist, or is it done in a way that leaves the reader having to flick back through the book to see what they’ve missed? Alternatively, are there too many signposts as to what’s going to happen, making the story too predictable, or is there so little information that you, the reader, is left struggling to understand what’s going on? Are there any bits of the way the plot is developed that you really like, or that you really hate, or that just leave you thinking meh? Again, thinking about these things when reading the writing of others will help you improve you own plot development skills.
You can also think about the characters and how they are introduced and described. Does this paint a picture in your head of exactly what they are like, or is too much left to the imagination? Are their personality traits consistent throughout the book, or do you suddenly find them doing something which is out of character with what has gone before? Do they change and develop as the story progresses, or do they just remain the same? Do you like them or hate them, and if so, are you meant to like them or hate them?
Then there’s the dialogue. Writing good dialogue is often something new authors struggle with, and I have to say it’s something I find difficult, but thinking about how other writers structure what their characters say can really help develop your own skills. Here, the key is to concentrate on how dialogue is presented and how it’s linked in with the actions of the characters. Does each character have a distinctive voice, or do they all kind of melt into one? Can you tell which character is speaking just from the dialogue or do you need other information? Are there times when you get confused as to which character is speaking, and if so, how could this has been avoided?
With active reading, you can get something useful out of any piece of writing, and in this respect it’s worth reading bad books as well as good ones. This is because learning what turns a reader off is as important as learning what they like. If you read a book and find yourself hurling it across the room in disgust because of the way it’s written, don’t curse the money you’ve wasted on it. Instead, treat it as a learning experience and work out exactly what you didn’t like about it, then promise yourself you’ll never fall into the same trap with you own writing.
Of course, when it comes to writing, not everyone likes the same thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in order to develop your own unique voice, you need to know what you like, and then work out how to write in that particular style. After all, first and foremost, you’re writing a book because you have a story which you want to tell, and at the end of the process you have to have a book which you are happy with. Active reading can help you identify just which elements you like in the literature you read, and why you like them. Only once you know this can you writing something which you can look back on and feel rightly proud of having written.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.