Writer Life: What Reading Looks Like as an Artist

Let’s take a look at what reading is like for those who’s craft is writing. Read on to learn the beauty and pain that happens when a creative reads.

Book Culture On Writing
A large image of a book and cup of coffee sitting on a white bedspread. In all four corners is a duplicate of a smaller image of a woman with a cup in one hand and a pen in the other. A notebook sits on her lap. She looks as if she is in a pensive state. Yellow pillows sit on a couch behind her while she sits on the floor.

When I was younger, writing was a freer pastime, where I could immerse myself in offbeat, fantastical worlds with no rhyme or reason as to how any of them worked. Anything was possible, and nothing was impossible for my characters. I can’t say I paid too much attention to plot holes, characterization, world-building, point of view, etc. I simply wrote what my child’s heart and mind desired and allowed my imagination to take flight. But as I grew older, took some classes in creative writing, and learned about different elements and devices used in storytelling, I began to notice the way I planned and wrote my stories. I noticed my writing even more as I read more books in fantasy, my genre of choice in which I read and write. The older me has become much more enlightened as I began to notice things that I hadn’t paid attention to before.

The Reader I Was vs. The Reader I Am Now

As someone who used to read extensively, I can say it was much easier to devour books. My appetite was quite large and rather indiscriminate. While I mostly read in the genre of fantasy — and still do — my reading appetite was whetted by paranormal, horror, and even some contemporary works. The only thing I noticed was how the story made me feel by the last page. Now, I can’t say that. My appetite for reading has slowed down quite a lot, and I’m now more critical of the work my eyes and mind consume. I’ve begun to pay closer attention to many elements, devices, techniques, ideas, and themes of storytelling. Because as a writer, I know these things will play a large role in the way other readers receive my stories. So now, I examine the way various authors tell theirs.

“Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy — which many believe goes hand in hand with it — will be dead as well.”

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale
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In Word Choice

“As a writer, I now begin to notice things like word choice and the way in which summary and description are used. Would a scene do better as a summary, or would the story benefit from expanding it? Why did the author choose specifically to use certain words? I notice things like that more as a writer.”

Alex Mellot, Bookstr Editorial Department

Word choice will always be one of the crucial elements that move a story from page 1 to page 300. The words an author chooses give readers like me a sense of whether they’ve fashioned a narrative that seamlessly flows, made sense within the context of the story, and created descriptive visuals we can follow and vividly form in our minds to help paint an overall picture. As a writer, I must say, this is what I pay attention to in my works the most.

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Words generate mood; they can make us feel as if we’re living out those moments, that period, experiencing those emotions. Words fill in the blanks in mysteries, take us soaring through the air on the wings of fantastical creatures, and sit us down at the kitchen table for difficult talks that may break our hearts. Most of all, word choice is what sets us on a journey from the first word, first line, first paragraph. So much can be expressed in a single line, yet how much to express is also key in choosing the right words to pen. Words create a dialogue between characters, establish the world we’re in, map out our course, and frame ideas from nothing. As I come to realize this with every book I read, I find that I am much more critical of how I read and write.

In Characterization

“When I read, I… evaluate characters based on their moral ascending, descending, flat, or transformational arcs. For the denouement and plot structure, I judge whether it falls into one of three categories:
– (Happy) The protagonist achieves the goal.
– (Tragic) The protagonist fails to achieve the goal.
– (Bittersweet) The protagonist achieves the goal, but at a great cost / Despite failure, there is hope.
In a sense, my desire to become an author has both improved and hindered my reading experience. On one hand, I tend to analyze the book more critically, which can sometimes detract from my immersion in the story. On the other hand, I can appreciate the narrative, setting, and characters on a deeper level.”

Madi Leigh, Bookstr Editorial Department

No matter what, no such perfect character to model everyone’s tastes after exists. Nevertheless, readers want characters that are 3-dimensional and feel relatable. Their goals and decisions should reflect their thoughts, personalities, and movements in believable ways. At the heart of it all, we want memorable characters. Their POV should draw us in so deeply that we feel as if we are them and are having an out-of-body experience. Their inner and outer conflicts, the way they speak, the worlds in which they’re born, and their backgrounds must drive readers to want to reach the resolution, where all the wayward dots along the way finally connect. The writer that I am now views the idea of characterization as clearly as a character who’s come to grips with their issue and how to solve it.

A man holding a flower staff sits on top of an indistinct creature in pink. A larger flower staff towers above his head. The man and flower staff repeats several times. Below the man are two characters with white and black horns. One is wearing white; the other is wearing black. They both look monstrous in nature. They are set against a dark background with few shimmers around them. The monsters also repeat three times.
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So much of myself as a reader, parallel to myself as a writer, has started to bridge the gap between the two sides. While many authors explicitly express the need for writers to read and read often, it hadn’t occurred to me to do so until I took my writing seriously. Now, I can’t help but meticulously analyze elements in characters I love — their traits, flaws, emotions, diction and dialect, pain, joy, as well as past experiences that can reflect their present and future selves. So much of what goes into character creation does influence story, because story imitates life. At the core of what makes a character perfect is whether or not they feel real to the reader, whether or not we root for their success if we love them, or their downfall if we despise them. And as a writer, I certainly notice this the more I read.

In World-Building

“There’s a genre theorist, Anthony Paré, whose ideas have stuck with me… He has this thought that genre divides the self, splitting our personalities into specific categories according to specific situations. Genre does a similar thing with plots. Certain genres require a certain structure — like how fantasy formed around the hero’s journey, or how many contemporary romances use the three-act structure. But as I’ve started thinking more about bringing my own stories to life, I realize that genre is changing as people experiment with how they convey their stories. Readers like me… who read… indiscriminately, are figuring out ways of using structures outside of their associated genre. It’s exciting to see what ways new authors are evolving genres as we know it!”

Abigail Caswell, Bookstr Editorial Department

Most readers admire elaborate, lush world-building, and I am no exception. How the world is constructed is an immensely important aspect of storytelling. It shapes the way we readers interact with the characters. We imagine what this world would be like to live in. The intricacies of a world, its history, evolution or devolution, political structure, social constructs, setting, and systems can sway our perceptions because the world is where the characters exist. It’s where the author’s words will come alive to make that world real. It’s where readers will decide if the story that’s unfolding before them and the details presented adhere to the rules and functions put forth by the author. While many readers aren’t as enthralled with world-building as others are, some form of world-building lends to the direction of a story. This is because world-building is genre-specific. Even small details, such as vintage 20’s style decor colliding with futuristic style technology, will stand out and dissuade readers from continuing a book.

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As I delve more into my writing, I can say that this is true. I now notice the way I incorporate elements of world-building to enhance my story and bring my world to life. It’s a process — because I know that not every aspect of my world will make it into the final draft; they don’t necessarily need to. But I realize that I must create visuals that showcase the rules and functions of this world that I’ve written into existence and placed my characters. The major aspects of my world need to make sense to my character(s) overall story, their journey, their problems, their interactions with the world and people in it, and how their story will be resolved. No matter if it is used a little or a lot, world-building matters. And as a reader and writer, I can say it certainly matters to me.

In Use of Grammar, Literary Elements, Devices and Techniques

“As soon as I began taking writing seriously and studying it through books on writing and reading various classic works, I began to notice story structure every time I read. I had never realized the various elements of story structure in books, and how all things like plot, character traits, and setting, have to work cohesively to keep the book moving forward to a destination the author can achieve in a way that enriches the story itself.”

Callie Elliston Smith, Bookstr Editorial Department

As readers, we may not be aware of how grammar, literary elements, and devices are used in writing to make the story more impactful. We notice only the story and how it moves, like a graceful dance or melodic song. The story winds like a river and stops abruptly at a bluff, where our characters may meet a terrible fate. The story pauses at sweet moments and rages at angry ones. It sits with friends and family for tea and conversation. But how do authors create such imagery, emotions, and even dialogue? How do they create tone and present themes that can make us see our reality alongside these fictional characters? The use of literary elements, devices, and grammar are how authors take leaps in their stories to build on the narration, breathing life into a book without many readers realizing it.

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The use of commas, colons, and periods can make or break a suspenseful scene. A pivotal moment in a character’s thinking in contrast to their conflict and their potential plan of action may be disrupted by the way foreshadowing and juxtaposition are used. Mood and tone can indicate how lighthearted or serious a scene is. Metaphors and similes can bridge connections to deepen understanding of what authors want readers to envision. For me, I notice how my favorite authors use metaphor and simile, foreshadowing, and mood because they create a sense of wonder, elicit strong emotions, and make dialogue intriguing. I examine how they uniquely present new information. Experiment with narration and sentence structure to craft their writing style. This has been a tremendous help to me because I have gained a great deal of knowledge about how to develop my own writing style.

In Plot and Story Structure

“I begin to notice what things are actually important to the story to understand what’s happening and what things I would cut out. I notice the different words that are used to make something simple sound extremely important. And I sometimes try to get inside the head of the author and see if I’m able to predict what will happen or if I’m impressed by the plot twist!”

Trish Galvez, Bookstr Editorial Department

No story moves along without a plan, a plot, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like a train running along the tracks, a story that flows effortlessly with all of its parts moving cohesively keeps readers invested. While some bumps may momentarily deter readers, if they’re not so distracting, readers will continue. But the plot, with all of its twists and turns, must make sense. The narrative voice must sound like the characters speaking. Characterization must mesh with thoughts, actions, and outcomes. Pacing must flow at a steady speed, rolling uphill in dramatic fashion when the plot thickens and slowing to a resolution when all loose ends are wrapped up and a final solution is determined. The exposition should guide readers along without being overwhelming. And while no plot is ever without a few holes, it must make sense as far as character goals, ambitions, and overall story are concerned.

On the left side, there's a pale-yellow image with words and drawings on it. On the far-right side, there is a typewriter and hands of someone typing on it. And in the bottom right corner, there's a larger, more colorful, image with words in black and word bubbles on it. The background if of an elderly woman with glasses and a bun. Images of cars, rockets, and stars surround her in a large thought bubble. She stands against a blue-green background that resembles a chalkboard. Three red question marks sit beside the smaller images on the left, right, and bottom right.
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This is where storytelling becomes tricky. I’m fairly certain that most writers like me easily obsess over plot holes and character switch-ups in personality, diction, and/or thought process. We may agonize for hours over settings that don’t match the story’s tone, characters that act rashly without reason, and rushed moments without explanation. As I write, I tend to work to move past plot predictability, resolution predictability, narrative, character interactions, and a world that doesn’t make sense in terms of rules and functionality. I question whether the political and social aspects of my world make sense to the reader in terms of genre, setting, plot, and themes. Are things well explained by the story’s end? These all play a role in the plot and story structure. They set the foundation on which your story is built. Because by act three — the finale — everything must come together in the reader’s mind without too many questions about your story’s layout.

At the end of everything, reading and writing go hand in hand. As a writer, I view the world of books in a different light than most readers who simply enjoy reading. I pay attention to so many elements, take extensive notes that will play a role in my story’s overall outcome, and work to be the writer I want readers to admire when it’s all said and done. But to get there, I find that these are the major points to take stock of because they are the five points of writing that every writer begins to notice once they’ve decided to take on writing. At the heart of it, we learn how to do it by reading.

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

William Faulkner, author of As I Lay Dying

For more on reading and writing, click here and here.

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