Learning to read critically.

As a kid I never liked reading, and when I did start reading, in my early twenties, I was very picky, partly because I was a slow reader, and partly because I didn’t want to waste my time reading a disappointing book. So I didn’t veer from the authors that had proven they entertainment value: Stephen King, John Grisham, Thomas Harris, and Michael Crichton.

Then I came across this podcast a few years ago, and it reminded me of something Stephen King said in his memoir, “On Writing,”

Every book you pick up has it own lesson or lessons and quite often the bad books have more to teach us than the good ones.

I realized that if I wanted to improve my writing, I had to start reading, and not just the books by authors I like.

Now, I enjoy critically reading over reading for pleasure. Reading critically forces me to think about the story on a deeper level: what plot devices are being used and why; are the characters consistent and do they have proper motivation; is the prose poetic and lively, or simplistic and dull. I am actively thinking about what I’m reading, asking if I agree with the how the story progresses or if I would have done it differently. Pleasure reading offers escapism, but critical reading allows for a deeper engagement, a better understanding, and ultimately a greater appreciation.

In this approach to reading, I learned to appreciate the dialogue of J.K Rowling, the fight scenes of Bernard Cornwell, the subtle magic system of Lian Hearn, and the word choice of Gillian Flynn. I have also come to understand how other authors, whose writing is elementary and whose characters are grossly inconsistent, are published: they able to successfully capture the tension of teenage love, or masterfully pull on the reader’s heartstrings to feel sorry for a protagonist.

Reading critically is simply asking “why.” Why is the character in the book, what purpose do they serve? Why did this scene take place, is it foreshadowing, or did the author not properly build information and is trying to create tension? Learning to ask these questions about published works gives me the ability to ask it of my own. When issues are identified I analyze how a successful author overcame a similar issue and use it as a launching pad to insert my own creative solution.

Actively thinking and questioning a book has not only increased my appreciation for good writing and story telling, it’s made reading more enjoyable, and it has drastically improved my writing.

If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to critical read the next novel you pick up. It could completely change the way you approach a book.

I realized that if I wanted to improve my writing, I had to start reading, and not just the books by authors I like. TWEET THIS


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