While this is not an across the board fact, generally speaking, if you’re a writer, you love to read. I love to read (if the weekly book reviews aren’t testimony enough). Sometimes I feel as if I could devour books and still be hungry for more. Then, other times, I see beautiful, well-written books and wonder how my books could ever compare.
It can become a depressing feeling. But what if we channel that emotion into something better? Instead of comparing our books to other great novels, what if we used those books to learn from and implement in our own?
A daunting thought perhaps. But totally feasible.
This is something that I have been learning about over the past several months. How to study stories and learn from them. I won’t promise to know everything about it, but I’ve learned many tips and tricks through my experience. So I thought I would share a few basic things to get you started analyzing the books that you read.
How to Analyze a Book
You may be wondering, where to I even start when it comes to studying stories? Well, there might be a lot of places you could start, but what I do, is pick one element and focus solely on that. That could be the characters, the themes, the setting/world building, the structure, and more. My advice, however, is to pick one element, and stick with it.
When you’re reading a book, there’s only so many things you can pay attention to at a time. So if you’re trying to analyze the characters and the themes and the structure all at once, you’re going to end up feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and never wanting to do this again. Especially if you’re reading this book for the first time and are trying to enjoy the story as well.
If you want to intensely study a book and understand how it was written so well from all angles, then maybe consider analyzing more than one target at once. But even then I would recommend it to be a reread of the same book so a) you would already be familiar with the story and b) you’re not taking away from the enjoyment of the story. Because reading should always remain your happy place, never let your desire to study stories take that away from you.
So decide on one target and move forward with it. For example, you might consider analyzing the characters from Little Women and learn how Louisa May Alcott crafted each character to be different and amazing in itself. Or consider the themes from Dearest Josephine by Caroline George (beautiful book!), or the setting of Fawkes by Nadine Brandes, or the structure of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
The list could go on and on. The point being, pick one area to analyze and go with it. Don’t get overwhelmed and don’t take away from the pleasure of the story.
What Element Should You Pick?
When you’re starting a new book that you know little about, you may not know what specific element you will want to study. Maybe this book will have well-crafted characters, maybe the structure will be superbly sound, or maybe the themes are so beautifully done that you will want to focus all your attention on them alone. How can you know which to pick?
My advice, randomly pick one and go with it. Even if that means you pick characters then start reading and realize the characters are the worst you have ever read. It will not be a failed venture, quite the opposite. You can still learn from bad writing just as much as you can learn from great writing.
Instead of analyzing every area the character is so amazing and studying how the author crafted them, analyze what makes them so unlikable to you and make a list. You should always keep a piece of paper beside you while reading or at least have one handy. This way you can write down everything you note as you’re reading. Don’t leave out anything. What might seem inconsequential now, could be a very important note later when you’re going through them.
How to Use What You Learn
All of the information that you can gather by doing this will be a waste if you don’t then take that knowledge and implement it. After studying a story, you should have pages of notes you’ve gathered from analyzing whichever element you picked (or even if you only have a few paragraphs, any is enough to learn from). But what do you do with those notes? What is the next step?
The next step is to learn. Just as you can learn through reading blog posts or watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts, you can learn by reading books. Take your notes and think through them. Perhaps you took a book and analyzed the characters throughout it, now read through your notes and think about what made them likeable or unlikeable.
Why did you relate to some and not others? What made you root for the good guys while glaring at the bullies? And don’t simply give answers such as “the bad guys were mean” or “the good guys saved the day”. No. Think through each and every character and write down their traits and what the author did to make them the way they were. Really think about your answers and delve deep into the learning process.
Maybe buddy read a book with a writer friend and do this together! Two minds are better than one and by the end of the book I’m sure the two of you would have many things to bring together and discuss. Talk through the different elements of the story and what each of you thought. Chances are, you each might have a different opinion. Why? Discuss these things and grow throughout it.
This post probably only scratched the surface on this topic of what you should know to study the books that you read. But it’s my hope that it’s enough to get you started because, once you get started, it becomes so fun it’s almost addicting.
I hope that you find yourself growing through this process and that your own novels grow as a result. There truly is no better way to learn than by learning from others who have come before and experienced success. Maybe one day a young, aspiring author will read your published book and learn from it to help their writing. Wouldn’t that be an amazing day?
Do you study the books that you read? What elements do you enjoy analyzing the best? What books have you/do you want to study?
4 thoughts on “How to Read Books as a Writer and Learn From Them”
Ooo, fabulous post, Allyson!!! 😀 Yeah, there’s definitely a difference between reading as a reader vs a writer. Lol, my brain is usually so steeped in the complexities of my plots and worlds and characters that it’s become natural to step back and analyze fictional books as a writer (sometimes, I have to MAKE myself just read purely for fun, as a reader 😂), but I’ve never tried focusing on ONE element in particular, such as characters, or themes, etc… I’ll have to do that! Thank you for sharing those wonderful tips!! 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Saraina! Haha! There most certainly is. Sometimes I struggle to read because my writer brain is picking it a part and analyzing it, lol! (I have to do the same thing!! #writerproblems) Yes, it makes it so much easier to focus! I love it! I hope you give it a try!! You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and was able to get something out of it!
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is such a great post! There have been points when I have sat down to read and just started editing them in my brain, and it’s so frustrating. I love the idea of just looking for one part of the book to focus on and learn from – that probably gets rid of that constant editor that sometimes lives in my brain! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks!! Ooh, thankfully I don’t have that problem (I am not the best editor…) but I do get what you’re saying. Yes, it makes it so much easier and actually practical to learn something from it! I hope you give it a try!!
LikeLiked by 1 person