Shelley Widhalm

The Joy of Reading

In Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 16, 2014 at 11:30 am

What comes first, wanting to be a writer or being a reader?

My guess is the second, or if not, wanting the glamour or the passion of the first.

I started with reading, loving the escape of books. I made sure I understood the meaning of words individually and together in sentences and paragraphs, and then could picture each detail from the landscape of setting to the psychology of character.

Over time, I became less of a careful reader, going for the movie screen effect, so that the words fly by into a colorful unrolling of setting and action. I want to read fast to feel the characters and the world of the book come alive, but doing this, I lose the individual words.

Reading multitudes of books (for me, about one a week) offers a way to absorb how other writers approach description, character development, dialogue and storytelling. It’s a way to experience different styles, or ways of using language through word choice and sentence structure.

Alternatively, by reading slowly, you can be more conscious of how you evaluate the writing. You can look at how the writer specifically employs each element of writing and assembles sentences and paragraphs, instead of doing so at the subconscious level.

As you read, slow down and ask these questions:

• Does the plot maintain your interest? Are there transitions, or does the storyline feel episodic and choppy?
• Are the major characters realistic? Do the minor characters serve a role in the story without drawing too much attention to their identities?
• Does the description of the setting make you feel like you’re there or do you trip over the words, because it’s too flowery and long?
• Is the dialogue how people talk without everything spelled out but with underlying meaning and an unspoken understanding between the characters?
• Is the theme played out in a new and interesting way, or do you feel like you’ve read the book a hundred times over?

Sometimes if I don’t like a book, I don’t just put it down. I try to identify if it is the style I dislike, or if it something about the storyline or the character development that bored me.

Reading makes for better writers, and writing makes for better readers as you learn about and develop a better understanding about what constitutes a great novel.

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