Sunday, July 12, 2009

Critical reading

critical reading--the observant way a writer reads fiction; a focused gleaning of technical and emotional tools the reader may use to strengthen his own work; the things a writer looks at and for when reading the works of other writers.

Even when it becomes apparent to the writer who is reading for more than the transportation of enjoyment and enlightenment that a particular story or novel is a disappointment, there is still value to be had. The writer-reader should pause to delineate specific complaints: Is the story line too simplistic? Are the movements of the characters predictable? Do the motives feel appropriate? Does the dialogue crackle with the intensity of complex individuals? Are there distractions?

Reading the work of another becomes an exercise at the level of revising one's own work. Are there unnecessary elements? Are the elements arranged properly? Do the characters aspire to an attain connection with the reader? Could I have done this more expeditiously, and if so how, and if not, what have I learned?

The writer-reader becomes anxious at first to determine if the narrative voice is agreeable, then goes on to wonder what the story is about. What, the writer-reader asks, is the goal of the story? What are the resident emotions? What are this author's strengths? Weaknesses? Then come the heaviest questions: Do I care? What made me care or not care? If I did care, when did I begin caring? If I did not care,what could have made me? What could I have done to make this story matter more. What special use does this writer make of the senses?

The writer as reader then goes on to ask some of the questions a literary critic might ask. What is the theme? What social, moral, and political issues does the writer appear to be engaging? But even these questions and their answers have story telling at their heart; it is well and good for a writer to observe ways Jane Austen used the dialogue and behavior of her characters to make fun of then contemporary social structure, but to gain technique from these observations, the reader must be able to experience the prejudices and humiliations of the characters. This awareness comes from the readers' need to appreciate on an emotional level the sense of social condition and obligation of the characters, then to observe how these behaviors are demonstrated in the text.

A simple approach to employ while reading the works of other writers is to imagine yourself being cast in the role of one or more characters in a particular novel or story, noting the chemistry and constraints of each character for all the other characters. Another informative approach is to use marking pens to note places where a character's agenda, whatever it might be, finds expression in narrative description, dramatic action behavior, and/or in dialogue.


J.C. Montgomery said...

I hope you don't mind, but I am printing this out and putting it up on the bulletin board in my home office.

I may not comment on every post, but I am an avid follower (and fan) and I thank you for wonderful posts such as this one.

lowenkopf said...

Print and post as you will; I'm pleased it resonates for you.

Anonymous said...

I'll use this post to help me figure out what I want to say about The Echo Maker. And then I'll wonder if I could use this on my own writing--if I can stand it.