1. nastyjman
    Offline

    nastyjman Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    136
    Location:
    NYC

    How do you study books?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by nastyjman, May 16, 2013.

    I've read dozens of how-to books regarding fiction, and it has come to a point where everything said is stated again and again (show don't tell, be precise with words, use imagery, turn off the editor-mind, don't give your protagonist an exit, etc.).

    I'm reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and I plan to read it again to study it (first read for pleasure, second for study). There was a point in the book where suspense was just too much, I had to write down the page to gloss it over again on the second read-through. There was temptation to write on the book itself, but I try not to do that with fiction since I don't want to distract the next reader, who I would lend or pass it on one day.

    This would be my first venture in analyzing, synthesizing and cutting up a book for its treasure. I'm a graduate of Accounting with an Associates Degree... so I barely studied English Literature. So my question is, how do you study a fiction book? Do you have a notebook and create an outline of the book? Have you written down sentences that captured your imagination? Do you critique the book or write a review of it?

    I'd like to know what your process is in studying books.
     
  2. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    For me, it depends on the project I'm working on. For example, if I'm writing a mystery novel, I'll initially have a choice of the books that I remember did something that I want to include. It can be a specific description, the transitions, the intro of a certain character, anything at all that I'm not sure how to approach. Sometimes I study pacing and chapters, to see the dynamic as in, when do you introduce the second POV for example, or how to weave the romantic subplot, chapters wise.
    I once attempted to analyse a book by chapters, to write down summaries and salient plot points, but I got too bored ie. I needed to keep writing and reading something new. So, that was a fail, but analysing aspects I do all the time.
    I'm a fiend for a highlighter and was famous during Uni for the most ridiculous colour coding of textbooks, with a hierarchy of highlighter colours and what not... Since then I relaxed (a lot!) and I only highlight on Kindle or ebook. I no longer desecrate books :D
     
  3. erebh
    Offline

    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,620
    Likes Received:
    467
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I tend to take notes of what not to do... I see all the time things that drive me mad and wonder if I'm just a fussy git or do authors get away with murder. It's rare I think, wow I'll use that or introduce something that way.
     
  4. blackstar21595
    Offline

    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2013
    Messages:
    598
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Brooklyn,NY
    Don't read how to books. Read stories form the masters of the short story/novel, and see what they do.
    I always do this with short story authors since short stories can be read in one sitting. I pay attention to their sentence structure,plot, dialogue, and how they show certain things about their characters, and when do they describe something.
     
  5. Nee
    Offline

    Nee Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2013
    Messages:
    713
    Likes Received:
    23
    Novels in particular are by nature a bit complex in structure, so I would read (and listen) to many novels, written by a number of authors, to train your mind to notice the various elements that come together to make a novel, when you first see them while reading. That way you'll remember what/how you were feeling as the that particular technique past by your eyes. Which in itself will teach you a bit about why that technique was used at that point in the novel.

    ...Ooops. Got to go.

    More later.
     
  6. nastyjman
    Offline

    nastyjman Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    136
    Location:
    NYC
    @jazzabel: I know what you mean with "desecrating" books although I do write on non-fiction books -- those I keep for myself.

    @erebh: There was one point in the book I'm reading where I skimmed through, which is not a good sign for the writing. But it only happened once so far.

    @blackstar21595: I've gone through a slew of those how-to books; some were good, some were blah. I think the ones that stuck with me are Anne Lamott's and Stephen King's books on writing. I think I'm done with them for now, maybe because I've bought all the "supposed" good ones in Amazon.

    The next book I'm buying is the short stories by John Cheever. I've heard about him for a long time now, even in my brief stint in English 101 years ago. And Sol Stein mentioned John Cheever, and he recommended him for style, grace and technique.
     
  7. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I just read and make a mental note of what's working and what isn't. I also pay close attention to the word choice and style of the writer. I was required to take notes/annotate books back in school, but that was only helpful for writing essays. It wasn't that useful when it came to actually studying the text.

    Having a discussion about the book with others also helps.
     
    1 person likes this.
  8. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    I just finished getting my BA in English so I'm fresh off the production line and hopefully have some knowledge I can pass along.

    First, I've always found it useful to pay very close attention to your own reactions to what you're reading. Do you feel something's gotten suspenseful? Frightening? Boring? Pause a minute and try to figure out what was going on to make you feel that way (whether in content, technique, or both). See what you can do about incorporating that into your own writing. I gained so much from doing this while reading The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Beautiful piece. I owe it so much.

    Second, if you're wanting to dig deep into literature, see if you can find anthologies that have questions aimed at critical analysis posted after the stories or poems. I have a number of these because they were my textbooks. I still have Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama by Robert DiYanni in my bag. Norton Anthologies, I believe, are also great sources for this sort of guidance. It's been a while since I've cracked one of those open, though. Those books also tend to have information on how to develop critical analysis skills, which would allow you to generate those questions the books present on your own. I'm not so great with that myself (coming up with my own critical questions) so these guided analyses have been invaluable to me. It's something I, too, need to work on. :)

    Third, I second thirdwind (appropriate but coincidental! :D). Discuss what you've read with others! Be sure to ask questions. Questions lead you to answers. Just stating things doesn't really do much. And pay attention to what others say. They're looking at stuff from a different perspective than you and their insight will be invaluable. Alternatively, you can look up reviews and analyses of stories online to see what others say about them.

    Hope this helps! :)
     
    1 person likes this.
  9. TerraIncognita
    Offline

    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

    Joined:
    May 28, 2010
    Messages:
    1,339
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Texas
    I don't take notes. I read it with a critical eye as an editor would then absorb the information I've gleaned from it. I think there's just as much to learn from bad books as good books. Knowing what not to do is important too. I try to find things that really stick out to me, good or bad, and hang onto the lessons from that.
     
  10. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    Absolutely! I love reading bad books (as much as they make me want to have an aneurysm) because they have so much to teach me! As soon as I run across something I don't like, I stop and think about why I don't like it. I learn a lot about myself that way (and my competition ;)).
     

Share This Page