Read Like a Writer

Read with Purpose

In my last post, I wrote: “Read like a writer. Analyze the author’s use of language. The author’s voice. The author’s style. Then write.”

My methods regarding this are mine; however, as I’ve said before, take what I do and make it your own. There’s never any harm in that.

My annotations in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

When I want to read, truly want to read, I buy a hard-copy of the book. I load up my fountain pen and open a new notebook or an old notebook if there’s room left after finishing the previous analyses. I do the same for short story collections, short stories in general, and poetry.

As I read, I’ll mark the margins next to specific passages with two lines perpendicular to the text and insert a symbol relevant to my ideas regarding that passage’s importance. The first image I’ve included in this post is how I notated Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I’ve been asked why two lines: emphasis; it feels final, as though I’m committed. Why symbols rather than a word? Symbols are quick and visual, easily found and organized.

Some of the symbols I use while annotating texts.

In my notebook, I write down the page number, the symbol, and specific notes on my immediate analysis of that passage. Sometimes, those notes are a breakdown of the author’s grammar and sentence word-count; this directly relates to pacing and how the author is attempting to make the reader feel. And, yes, I physically count the words in the sentence since it’s in a hard-copy and sometimes mark out the meter of the sentence (stressed and unstressed syllables).

Once I’ve completed approximately a sixth of the novel, I go through my notes and find patterns then analyze those patterns regarding literary terms and conventions. I’ll write a thesis statement or maybe a sentence to a paragraph analyzing those thematically similar notations. I’ll then read the next sixth, and the next, until I have the novel completely read and analyzed.

Notes I took on Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Note that I write for myself, so I’m usually the only one who can read what I’ve written.

This is literary analysis. This is studying the writing craft. This is finding meaning and structure in the words the author may or may not have intended, but the reader may find. This makes reading personal. This is what authors mean when they say the book is now the readers’ because they have completed their end of the job, and now the readers get to take over while the author writes the next book.

My next post will continue how to read like a writer by going into what it means to read close to and outside your genre.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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