I’ve been trying to be an active and aware reader lately. I try to take a step back and notice what keeps me turning the page. What is it about the character that captivates me? Which books do I stay up until 3 am for even though I have to get up early for work? (Usually it’s a book where I can’t bear to stop at the end of a chapter). What things annoy me or piss me off? How vividly can I see the events? When does it lag? When does it feel like work to read it?
I spent 50% of my time as a teenager with my nose in a book. By the way I recommend this as a coping skill for the teenage years! I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer or because I’ve read a million books, but I’m a fussy reader and I don’t have a lot of patience. If you don’t have me after the first few pages, I’m onto something else. I also have a tendency to start three books at once and it’s always interesting to see which one wins out, which one I finish first.
I also love movies and I’ve noticed a parallel between good acting and good writing. When I’m watching a movie with a good actress, I don’t notice that she’s a good actress because well, in my mind, she IS the heroine. I’m absorbed, obsessed with the actual story. I don’t even have the thought that she’s a good actress. When it’s bad acting, I notice the acting, NOT the story it’s trying to tell. And I find myself thinking, wow what a bad actor.
Writing is similar. I’ve found that aware reading is much easier to do when I’m reading a poorly written book. I’m constantly analyzing it and can usually pinpoint what’s wrong. If it’s a book I love, I forget to take that step back because I’m so engrossed in what’s happening. I finish the last sentence and I think, oh no—I missed it, how did the author do it? I wasn’t even aware because I was so immersed in the story that I forgot, well, it’s just a story.
I’m reading a book like that right now and have had to make a very conscious effort to slow down and notice how this author is captivating me (Anya Seton, a historical fiction writer). It’s annoying to read books that way because it’s work and it’s much more fun to be swept away into another world. But it’s also intriguing to dissect, and I’m hoping it will improve my own writing. I realize that it’s not quite as matter-of-fact as science and there’s no Algebra equation that will result in a masterpiece, but for years I viewed writing as completely creative and artistic with no boundaries or methods. I was waiting for that inspiration that would suddenly produce the masterpiece. However I’m finding that there are some broad paint strokes that can guide a work of art and cause one piece of writing to be better than another.
It seems like common sense, but for a creative person who always hated math because it had only one correct answer, it was at first a little disappointing, but later exciting to learn that some methods can improve the story. And yet it’s still an intricate and delicate art that allows for some subjectivity unlike blah and boring mathematics!