Reading. As writers, it is vitally important that we read other works on a consistent basis. My recent post on The Three E’s of Writing touched on the subject of learning from books that reach out and grab your soul. I thought I would go deeper on this topic by discussing how you can specifically analyze a book for the purpose of enhancing your own writing.
Reading books, in any genre, whether fiction or non-fiction, stimulates our writing brains almost subconsciously. While reading a well written book, we absorb good sentence structure, new words, ideas for building chapters, and how to create hooks to capture readers. You see how others write effectively, how they put together fantasy worlds, for example, or rich characters, or unique plots. If you are reading a non-fiction book, you learn how to write information in a format that your reader can learn from, and how to make the words flow in an interesting arrangement.
Conversely, reading a poorly written book will help you to see what not to do with your own writing- things like fragmented sentences, poor grammar and spelling, weak plots and holes in the story, or missing information and loose ends.
How to Analyze Books to Enhance Your Own Writing
After you read a book written by another author, take a few minutes to analyze its strengths and weaknesses as a way to develop your skills for writing your own pieces. Think about what you like or disliked. (This is a personal preference and will be different for everyone, but remember that the use of this exercise is to give you tools for your own writing style.)
Here are some questions to consider after reading both fiction and non-fiction books:
Plot – Is there a solid or weak plot? Is the plot intriguing? Did you really want to find out what was going to happen, or were you bored? Are there any plot holes, or is everything tied up tight?
Characters/Character Development– Are the characters interesting? Do they have personality quirks, or are they stagnant and boring? Do the characters change by the end of the story? Do they learn something? Do they show emotion effectively (pain, anger, joy)?
Dialogue– Is the dialogue between characters realistic? Do they say things that don’t make sense for the story? Is there too little or too much dialogue? What would you do differently?
Story Arc or Climax– Does the story build to an exciting peak? Is there a mystery brewing, or unknown information that is released at just the right point in the story? Does the author make you want to find out what was going to happen? What did you specifically like or dislike about the story arc?
Topic – Is the topic appealing? Does the book engage with you on a personal level? Are the points clear and easy to follow? Did you want to finish it? Why or why not?
Structure– Does the book lead up to something bigger? Does it give you steps to follow or actions to take? Does it answer the questions or solve the problems you were hoping for?
Anecdotes– Does the book have personal or anecdotal stories? Does it include empathetic narratives to make you want to solve a problem, improve something or gain perspective about the topic? How did the book make you feel?
BOTH FICTION & NON-FICTION:
Writing Style– Is the book written to keep you turning the page? Did you want to find out the next part of the story, or the next steps in a process? Did the writing flow easily or was it choppy? What did you like or dislike about the style?
Arrangement– Does the book jump around a lot? Is it difficult to follow at times? Does the arrangement of the story or the chapters make sense and have meaning?
Beginning/Middle/End– Does the book have any weak spots, or is it strong all the way through? Did you want to skip a section, and if so, why? Do they use cliff-hangers, or mysteries, or lead-ups to the next part?
A FEW MORE QUESTIONS:
-Do you have a favorite passage or idea from the book? Why does that passage or idea resonate with you?
-Would you read another book from this author? Why or why not?
-How can you employ certain techniques to your projects?
-What would you avoid in your own work?
-What else can you learn from this book to enhance your writing?
As a writer, it is essential to continually improve your writing skills. Evaluating other books is just one way to do this. Plus, reading is enjoyable and gives us a little break from our own writing.
I am not suggesting that you copy another author’s book. The idea here is to see what works and what doesn’t, or what you liked or disliked. The thing is, it is personal preference and what you appreciated may not be the same for everyone. Analyzing another book is merely a tool for gaining ideas and techniques for your own writing.
So, the next time you finish reading a book, take a few minutes to analyze it for your writing tool box. Use your own voice, and remember that as you keep writing- and reading- your skills will only get better and better.
P.S. For more ideas to spark your writing creativity, check out my Free Guide, Jump Start Your Writing.