Monday, August 06, 2007

Reading As Writer

Someone wrote to me about two stories in a magazine, commenting that one story would be a favorite of the readers of the magazine and the other would be a favorite of the writers. I thought about this and wonder if this is a distinction worthy of exploration.

Do writers read differently than people who have no intention on spinning tales of their own?

There are many times that I read something and pick it apart, looking for construction and how character is developed and plot unveiled. Those times, I will study paragraph construction and sentence usage. As a matter of fact I've found myself doing that today while reading Stephen King's "The Gunslinger", which is the first of the "Dark Tower" series. But then, there are other works of fiction that I devour without any consideration as to form.

When I worked as a film critic, I seldom broke apart a film until after I had watched it. As I told someone: "If I am sitting there thinking about acting, direction, and editing, then something is wrong. I should be immersed in the experience."

Should the same thing be said about writing? As we read should we be enjoying the experience, or is it a failure if we find ourselves picking it apart as we go along? Or as writers do we approach the craft or art with a different perspective? There's no right or wrong answer or perspective here, it's just something to think about when reading.


miller580 said...

I will attempt to comment on a few things here. First, I have read the Dark Tower Series over and over since I was about 15 years old. In fact, It started with the first book, then when the second came out I re-read the first before the second. When the third, fourth and get the point. Only when the final book came out did I run through it from beginning to end. This is why I need to read it again.

But I do not read this book as a writer. I read it as a reader. It is too close to me. I don't want to tear it apart. I will critique it as a reader and say the the last three books could have used a better editor....but hey that's just me.

Stewart, I would suggest reading through it the first time (if this is your first time) as a reader who is looking for a fantastic story.

I find most of the time that when I read to critique or watch a film that I am studying...I must read/view the first time as a mere participant.

If it is good, it captures me and I can't think about anything but the story. It is upon a second or third viewing/reading that the critique can come forward.

However, I am in the middle of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and (thanks to some advise from you) I recognized and found myself analyzing many tropes of the "hero." I have been analyzing the myths and plot development. At first when I started to read this book, my intent wasn't to study form and technique but rather to expand my literary range. Dabble in something I normally wouldn't. But as I identified the tropes I found I couldn't stop myself.

I am not sure if that is good or bad. At this point, I will say that it is good, because I think in the long run, it will help me write better.

Stewart, if you want my advice (and I know you do) let go of the writer for your first read of the DT series. Become one with the epic. Often King is criticized for low brow writing (an easy read) but I believe that this series (which intertwines with many of his non-DT series) will review the sinister genius that is King's warped mind.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't think it's necessarily a sign of a weak book when you read it as a "writer" instead of as a "reader." For me, though, the absolutely best books still suck me in so that I'm just a reader and don't even think about the effects until later, after I'm done.

SQT said...

I agree with Charles, the more well written a book, the more you forget to look at the writing.

I'm reading a book now by Steven Erikson that has gotten tons of good press but I find I can't lose myself into it as much as I like. I'm not a fan of cryptic writing or conversations that go in circles, which seems to be a favorite device of Erikson's. To me it ends up taking away from the experience of the story and draws me to the mechanics of the writing.

Lucas Pederson said...

I'm not really good yet at editing. I tend to not think about how the story is constructed as I read. However, upon reading a novel by F. Paul Wilson called Midnight Mass, I did find myself frowning and saying, "That don't sound right." or "Wait a second, shouldn't there be a comma there?"
I'm still learning.

As for King's The Gunslinger...those Dark Tower books are awesome, if you haven't read them all yet. They get wierd, but their good too. In my opion anyway.

Great post!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I know this has little (read: Nothing) to do with the present topic, but the announcement had to be made.

For those of you who don't know, tomorrow (08/08/2007) is a very important day. Not only for dedicated Chuckists like myself, but for anyone whose life has been touched by the great Charles(Chuck) P Zaglanis.

For on the eighth day of the eighth month, we celebrate the anniversary of the Great Lord Chuck's birth.

I'm sure this will surprise some of you. Unlike "certian" deific figures *coughjesuscough* the Great Lord Chuck makes little mention of this blessed date in history.
Normally I would abide by his unspoken and humble wishes, but not sharing the joy of this day with the world is more than I can take.

If you wish to make an offering to the Great Lord on this day, he enjoys pork, and all byproducts of pork. Or you could just call, email, or post a comment on his blog (which can be found in Mr. Sternbergs links) wishing him a happy birthday.

Happy Chuck day to all!


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

i can say with complete honesty that i will dissect a book by, say s. king, whereas if i'm reading a book (or story) by someone i know, e.g., charles gramlich's cold in the light, i will simply enjoy the experience. also, i am usually too busy bashing my own writing, ha ha ha, he laughed seemingly self-effacingly.

Vwriter said...

Reading like a writer seems like a horribly inefficient way to profit from another writer's work, since the "analytical distancing" involved would prevent us from experiencing the immersive impact that work had on a reader. In other words, we would be robbing ourselves of the single most important aspect we gain by reading that work.

After initially reading a work, I can see where going back with a mind to analyzing the structure et al would be enormously valuable, but to deprive ourselves of the immersive impact of reading as just another reader would greatly diminish our hopes of harvesting the most important elements we were seeking to acquire.

In other words, I agree with miller580's comments which are, as usual, thought provoking.

avery said...

A book should be able to draw in anyone and keep them there, regardless of their profession. If it fails to do that, then either the reader doesn't mesh with the materials or the author has, in some way, failed. I find myself picking apart books only when they're not fully engaging me (or if I open them for that specific purpose). That's not to say that I don't notice an occasional repeated word in the same paragraph, but, on the whole, a good book should make me forget I'm a writer.

Sidney said...

I think writers are often a tougher audience because they can spot "technique" quicker than the average reader who's not always "detecting a pattern."

Writers know when you're making a character nasty so that his death will be better accepted, or when you're throwing in the excuse to justify not doing the obvious: "But we can't take the elevator, down because there's peanut butter on the buttons. We'll have to use that mountain climbing gear to go down the outside the building."

Donnetta Lee said...

Hi, Stewart! I like to read just as a reader. Then, once in a while, I'll go back and pick a little. Or, once in a while, if I find something I just don't care for--well, I just pick, pick, pick--and really don't read, read, read. Must be a personality flaw!