Monday, August 8, 2011

Reading Tips for Writers


Many of us read in our genre. Fantasy writers like to read fantasy, often narrowing in to subgenres. I know I do, maybe to be inspired from a viewpoint I hadn’t thought about. 

I’ve put together a list of ideas to help me evaluate and learn as I read in my genre. This is different than a review in many ways, taking a closer look at style. 

Currently, I’m reading The White Cat, a YA paranormal by Holly Black. Since I’m reading it with a book club, I’m encouraged to slow down and take a closer look, so using this system is especially helpful.

Analyze the story’s structure. There are many outlines for this. I use Larry Brooks’ system.

Part 1: (Set-up/introduction/liking main character/hook) The main character, a high school junior named Cassel, wakes up to find himself on the roof of his dormitory, being led there by a strange dream about a magical cat he must chase. That would hook me any day.
First Plot Point—(turning point, changing everything, threatening MC) I’m struggling to find this, sixty pages into a 210 page book. There has been a lot of creative delivery of back story and introduction of new secondary characters.
Part 2: (character in planning mode, not attacking yet, wanderer)
Midpoint—(new information allows MC to form a plan of attack)
Part 3: (warrior, attacking opposition)
Second Plot Point—(final piece of puzzle changes everything again, chase is on and hero is not to be denied)
Part 4: (resolution)

Note the book’s structure. Consider POV, chapter and section arrangements, use of prologue or epilogue. 

The POV speaker in The White Cat is Cassel. It is very unusual that this is written in first person, present tense. I’m learning a lot about present tense writing, which I’ve stayed totally away from. Although first revolted, I actually like it now and might consider trying it myself. Great to see how it’s used well.

Keep a list of interesting words and phrases. I’m a workaholic and this happens naturally, to be impressed with a cool turn of a phrase. 

Analyze the book’s blurb. How much of the plot is given away? What is included to entice the reader? What is revealed about the characters?

The White Cat has a blurb with the first paragraph being entirely back story. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been so surprised when most of 60+ pages have been just that.  The rest of the blurb does give a lot away, telling that the young man is being set up by his family, a group of con-artists. In the story, the author takes a long time to accomplish this, as though she wanted to lead you through the maze without you realizing it. I’m left wondering why she ruined her surprise by including it in her blurb. 

Identify the intended audience. Who is it written for? Does it exclude some groups?

This is a YA book and the style is definitely geared to that age group, rather simple for adults, both in language and complexity of emotional relationships.

Note things that distract you. Are any moments of the story unbelievable? Or awkward?

An overwhelming amount of back story has bothered me. The author chose to tell much about how Cassel’s family members used magic rather than showing them doing so in their peculiar ways. I’d rather see more, but I’m hopeful there is a good reason for this method.

Describe the writer’s voice. How does it sound in your mind? What makes that voice unique?

The voice is casual, like listening to your best friend ramble with ease. It’s warm and friendly. I’m enjoying that aspect a lot. It’s a definite strength of this novel and author.

Note the type of research involved. Are there historical or cultural references or a specialized interest topic?

There are references to Prohibition and the Depression, so research about that time period was necessary.

Note what makes the book special. Why might you recommend it?

I like the usual ways magical abilities of Cassel’s family members. I found that very imaginative and a real strength of the book.

4 comments:

Rachel Firasek said...

What an interesting way to look at a book. Thanks for sharing!!

Kara Ashley Dey said...

I thought the same thing when I began to read 'A Great and Terrible Beauty'. Now I couldn't imagine Libba Bray writing it any other way. Love that series! And it's in first person present. Thanks for the reading breakdown tips!
-Kara

Meredith Allard said...

Very helpful tips. I often look to reading in whatever genre I'm writing in as a way to find inspiration (and writing advice).

Marsha A. Moore said...

Rachel and Meredith, glad you found it helpful.

Kara, I agree, first person present tense can be good if done well, as this book does show!

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