Reading like a writer sounds like it could be something complex but it isn’t, in a lot of ways you probably already read like a writer.
Reading like a writer begins with reading a book and thinking ‘Oh, that was a good bit’. Who hasn’t read a book or seen a film or TV show and thought that? The next step is thinking: Why is this a good bit? Is it something about the dialogue? The description? The structure of the sentences?
Of course, there will be times when you think, ‘Well, that wasn’t very good,’ fiction is all a matter of taste after all. So this time you ask: Why isn’t this good? At this point it can be helpful to start thinking how you would’ve written it. What do you think could be done to make this bit better? What’s missing? Is there too much of something?
From these simple questions spring a myriad of other questions. Now, don’t tell anyone I told you so but you’ve just started analysing fiction.
It really is that simple. Terms such as ‘reading like a writer’ and ‘analysing literature’ can put people off because it makes it sound more difficult than it actually is, it can get more complicated later on but we’ll build it up, it’s the best way I find.
I think that sometimes people can lose interest in fiction at school because there kids tend to get chucked in at the deep end with literary analysis. The implication is that there is one answer, there isn’t, and there’s no mention of what you think, how you feel, or whether you like it or not. When you start reading like a writer forget all the intellectual stuff and focus on how the piece makes you feel and what you think. These are things that nobody can tell you.
As a method of teaching people to analyse fiction I prefer this one because I’m always interested in people’s personal opinions on literature and, if we’re honest, all literary critics start with their personal opinions which is why you can read half-a-dozen or a dozen reviews and critical texts and you’re unlikely to find two that agree.
Another reason I prefer this method is because it takes the focus off an approach that focuses on ‘what the writer intended’. Unless you have a time machine or a connection to the afterlife you’ll never know exactly what Shakespeare intended, it is all interpretation, but that’s another article.
So the next time you’re reading something and you like or dislike it simply try to consider the why and you’re on your way.