Over 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?
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