How to read on a deeper level by comparing your favorite works of art: all authors need this skill

1197469_reading_a_newspaperOver the last two days, I’ve considered how to write fiction on a deeper level, and how to take your blog posts deeper. Today, on a related note, I want to talk about READING on a deeper level.

As a former doctoral student in Spanish literature, reading deeply is a specialty of mine–even reading lots of things into a text that the author, I’m sure, never intended in the slightest, which is one of the things that frustrated me about grad school and why I left.

I’ve written once before, from a very different viewpoint, about how to read as a writer. That is, what questions you can ask yourself as you read fiction and what you can look for to help you develop your writing chops. That post is all about limiting yourself to considering/studying one text.

This post is different. Today, I want to talk about the skill of making connections between what you’re reading and other things in life. Connections that will help inspire your fiction and give you wonderful, insane, exciting ideas for your own stories.

Make connections between a group of texts written by one author (whether or not those are series books.)

  • What is the author’s MO? Is s/he wonderful at shocking and surprising you? Do you come to expect certain tricks and motifs from the author as a matter of course? I definitely, for instance, came to expect a major death at the end of each Harry Potter book, and a showdown between Harry and Voldemort.
  • Do the things you come to expect from the author enhance or take away from your reading experience?  Why? For me, continuing the Harry Potter example, my expectations enhanced the experience. I knew something tragic and adrenaline-pumping was coming and I couldn’t put the book down until I knew what that would be.
  • How does the author’s style change and develop from book to book? Especially if the books aren’t installments in a series: Why do you think these alterations occur? How do they shape a particular novel? Are, say, the different characters involved, and their different personalities, responsible to some degree? How do you feel the style of each book suits it? How would one book’s style work if applied/imitated in another of the author’s novels?

Make connections between books written by different authors.

  • This is a great way to get you thinking about what you like and don’t like, in general, in a book. That’s good to keep in mind when you’re trying to shape characters and a plot that will interest you over the course of a novel as you write it.
  • Does the book you’re reading remind you of another book? How?
  • Are the characters similar? Do they face struggles of a similar type, or share certain character traits?
  • Is the setting similar, in a fun way, to another book you’re read? Is the setting somehow very expansive or very limited in a way that  contributes to the work, its tone, and the effect those produce? (I’m thinking of certain episodes of “Friends” that take place solely in Monica and Rachel’s apartment.)
  • Are there certain plot points the book shares with others you’ve read? Royalty, perhaps, and knights? Or a criminal and the underworld of some society?
  • What do your favorite five or six books have in common? Do you enjoy stories set during war, or under the threat of war? Do you enjoy stories about travel? About personal redemption? Stories about coping and loss? Do you love comedy?

Don’t limit yourself to books, either. If a book reminds you in a stunning, fabulous way of a painting you’ve seen in an art gallery, or of a movie or tv show, or a play you’ve seen, run with it. Why the connection? What about the connection do you enjoy?

The fact is, you have to love your story and your characters. And contemplating what aspects you enjoy about your favorite works of art can help you pinpoint what you need in your story, creating your unique mix of things.

I, for instance, love stories of redemption. I love war stories and high stakes and characters who make sacrifices for the greater good. I love stories where faith is a pivotal motivating factor, and those with faith in the good of the world and the good of humanity are proven justified.

I love stories that can be read on more than one level, with a deep undercurrent. I love stories that reference books and have characters who, like me, are readers and dreamers and have a philosophical bent.

So, what do you love in a story? What do your favorite books have in common? How do you read deeply?

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to follow my blog by email. You can sign up at the top right corner of the page.


16 responses to “How to read on a deeper level by comparing your favorite works of art: all authors need this skill

  1. Interesting post. I find that I have been doing these things for a number of years now without really being aware of it and it certainly has shaped my writing.

  2. Great post. In my grad program, the emphasis also was on reading like a writer. I also love a good redemption story. I love a journey story, where a character learns about life on the road. I’m probably all about the hero’s journey. 🙂 (And by hero I mean male or female.)

    • I’m with you! I was going to write a dissertation about picaresque literature, which involves lots of traveling (the lowlife protags are on the run a lot, fleeing people and masters after stealing from them or causing other trouble)

  3. I have found that the more I write, and learn about writing, the more reading changes for me. If I can find an author that I love, then I’ll stick with it. But until I read this I don’t think I realized that it’s because you come to expect something, and read because you know that will be fulfilled. (HP is a great example)

    Ann Rinaldi comes to mind for me. She does more teenage kind of writing, but hers are historical, feature a heroine who has to overcome many kinds of obstacles to some great end. I’ve never been disappointed in her books.

    Very thought provoking post today! I have a lot to think on. Thanks Victoria!

  4. It’s because of all you do for all us authors & writers by giving great advice/tips, (especially to us “newbies”, and the time you take out of your Life to do so is much Appreciated, AND is why I NOMINATED you & your Blog for a *Super Sweet Blogging Award*!!! CONGRATS! Come by my blog for details, and you can SHARE your “FAVS” as well! *Becky*

  5. Thanks, this was an interesting post. I’ve only recently started reading on a deeper level to be honest. I will consider these points when I start reading my next book.

  6. Pingback: The Squirrelies! | kiralynblue

    • thanks so much for the shout out! I’m thrilled you find my blog a resource, and appreciate you spreading the word. Most of those followers are on Twitter: have a great gathering going on there! (apparently wordpress adds in your twitter followers to the count)

  7. Although I’m a few months late to the party, I just came across your blog via a new share this morning on Google+. Consider me a follower! I was a book hoarder for years – horrible for a former bookstore employee with a discount. 😉 About two years ago, I decided to give away my stash, opening my home and bookshelves to friends and family alike. Of course, I kept my very very favorite books – those I could never part with.

    After reading your blog, I’m going to sit down later today and really think about what it is that connects those authors and novels to me personally. Considering I’m gearing up for another NaNoWriMo, this sounds like a valid exercise that could really create some interesting ideas and prompts!

    Thanks for taking a simple idea and formulating it in such a way that allows us to really get to know ourselves through our reading. I love it, and I hope I never read another book the same way again!

    • Great to connect with you!!! I think all of us have that collection of treasured, favorite, wrinkled and dog-eared books 🙂

      Best of luck with NaNoWriMo!!! I did it last year and had a blast. Still struggling to make something out of the book I wrote, though 🙂 Such is NaNo, I feel…. I would never get quality out of it to start with (but that’s just me .Other people are different).

  8. Pingback: 7 Different Types of Readers: Which Do You Write For? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s