Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Because, even when we’re doing this subconsciously, we’re still learning.
But if we really can’t help being critical readers, let’s occasionally get proactive about it.
Read like a writer.
Viewpoint. How is this author handling point of view? Is the story in first person or third? Does the choice work for you? Why or why not? Does the narrative viewpoint draw you in, or does it feel like the author holds you at a distance? How many viewpoints are used in the course of the story? Do the other viewpoints seem like tangents, or do they directly affect the main characters and plot?
Conflict. Does the author include conflict in every scene? Too much, or too little? Do the problems seem contrived, or do they evolve as a natural result of the character’s actions or decisions? Does the author effectively balance high-tension scenes with more relaxed passages? Does each plot twist lead inexorably toward the dramatic climax? Is the conclusion both believable and satisfying?
Characterization. Are the characters’ thoughts and actions consistent with their personalities? Did the author do a good job of blending backstory into the forward plot movement? Why do you like or dislike a particular character? Do you easily grasp the characters’ goals and motivation? Did the author make you care about these people?
Dialogue. Can you “hear” the characters’ individual voices in their speech or internalizations? Does each character’s expression sound natural for the era and setting? Does it suit their personalities and educational background? Is there a good balance between dialogue and narration? Do beats and tags enhance or detract?
Description. Does the author blend description naturally into the flow of the story, or is it dumped in large chunks that interrupt the action? How easy is it for you to picture the characters and setting? Based on the genre, is there too much or too little description? Is it relevant, drawing you deeper into the plot? Or does the description seem extraneous or overwritten?
Some writers go to great lengths to analyze novels, including using colored pens and highlighters to mark different types of passages. When you see the “rainbow” spread across the pages, you can easily see which colors dominate and which areas received the least attention.
Now that you’ve thoroughly analyzed a few novels, it’s time to . . .
Write like a reader.
You know what you like, and in each book you read, you’re learning to identify what works and what doesn’t. You should also be gaining a sense of publishing house tastes and preferences.
So as a writer, your job is to create the most enjoyable reading experience possible within the parameters set by your genre and target market.
Characters and POV. Do readers in your genre prefer third-person point of view, or is first person equally popular? Will they expect a single viewpoint, or alternating viewpoints between hero and heroine? Is there room in the book for relevant scenes in supporting characters’ viewpoints?
Action vs. Introspection. Is your genre typically character driven or plot driven? Suspense readers expect more faced-paced action scenes and fewer thinking/reacting scenes. Readers of pure romance and women’s fiction look for the opposite. Also think about what’s appropriate for your characters. For example, is your hero dwelling too much on his feelings?
Emotional impact. Readers of every genre seek some kind of emotional connection with the story, so make sure you give them the type and amount they expect. Romance, women’s fiction, and coming-of-age stories touch the heart. Action and suspense novels must deliver a steady flow of thrills and chills. Mysteries may also contain an element of danger, but even more important is challenging the reader’s sleuthing skills. Have you dropped enough clues without giving too much away?
Description and narrative. Too much descriptive detail in a suspense novel and your readers will start skimming. Fail to fully engage your reader’s five senses in a romance and you’ve cut the heart out of your story. If you’re writing a historical, what balance of fact-vs-fiction will satisfy discerning readers?
When your draft is finished, give it a week or two before you reread for edits and revisions. Then, once again, read like a writer!
Let’s talk! Have you ever intentionally analyzed a novel to understand why it does or doesn’t work? What did you learn that helped you in your own writing? Is there an author or particular novel that, for you, represents the “ideal” of your genre and the quality of writing you aspire to?
Today I’m giving away a copy of my novel When the Clouds Roll By (book 1, Till We Meet Again, Abingdon Press). To be entered in the drawing, join the conversation and mention your interest in the book!
About the book: Annemarie Kendall is overjoyed when the armistice is signed and the Great War comes to an end. Her fiancé, Lieutenant Gilbert Ballard, is coming home, and though he is wounded, she is excited to start their life together. But when he arrives, her dreams are dashed when she learns Gilbert is suffering from headaches, depression, and an addiction to pain killers. This is not the man she had planned to marry.
After serving in the trenches, Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary is barely holding onto his faith. Putting up a brave front as he ministers to the injured soldiers at the hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he befriends Gilbert and eventually falls for Annemarie.
While Annemarie tries to sort out her confused feelings about the two men in her life, she witnesses firsthand the bitterness and hurt they both hold within. Who will she choose? Will she have the courage to follow her heart and become the woman God intended her to be? As the world emerges from the shadow of war, Annemarie clings to her faith as she wonders if her future holds the hope, happiness, and love for which she so desperately longs.
Watch for book 2, Whisper Goodbye, coming this spring!