Human beings read to escape and to be entertained, but we also read to understand and to learn. Stories are the way we make sense of our world.
When you read as a writer you become more critical. Why do you like this story? Why does a certain character enthral or enchant you?
Here are 17 questions you could ask as you become a more critical reader. They may help you to pinpoint where your writing is going wrong and where it is going right. They will also help you if you write book reviews.
- What made you carry on reading past the first page? This is more important than you think. How many times have you thought that you couldn’t bear to carry on reading past the first paragraph? Was there a good hook?
- Was there a moment when you thought ‘this could happen to me’ or ‘I know how that feels’?Because we read to feel less alone and to know that there are other people who go through bad and good things, this is good to have in a book.
- When did you first care about what would happen next? There is a moment in most books where you invest in a story. Was this gradual or did you have an ‘aha’ moment?
- When did you first stop reading – not because you needed to do something else – but because you felt you needed a break from the book? Something happened at this point to turn you off the story. Try to identify what it was.
- Which book did you most enjoy reading before this one? Why did you enjoy it? This explanation could give you valuable insights into what makes a book good for you.
- Did you finish reading the book? Did you finish because you don’t like leaving books unfinished, because you were mildly invested in finding out what happened, or because you had to know how it ended?
- Which character will you remember five years from now? You may not remember his or her name, but there should be something unforgettable about this person. How did they make you feel?
- Which character annoyed you? If you could advise the author to get rid of that character, would you? List the reasons you don’t think he or she is necessary for the story.
What was the one moment when you could not put the book down?
The moment you were literally on the edge of your seat? Was this level of suspense sustained? Did you miss it when it wasn’t there?
- Which parts of the story did you skip or skim? Why did you do this? Maybe there were large blocks of boring backstory, dense descriptions, or too many unnecessary conversations.
- Which setting do you remember the most? Why do you remember it? Perhaps you could imagine being there. Describe it in your own words.
- Which setting is forgettable? Why do you think this is? Perhaps it doesn’t add anything to the plot?
- Which character would you like to meet? This character does not have to be the hero. Who is the one person in the book that you would like to find out more about?
- Which character would you avoid in real life? Avoid including the villain here just because he or she is evil. Include the person you would avoid despite their role in the book. List the reasons.
- Does the marketing work? If you could change anything about the packaging/cover/blurb/title of the book, what would you change? List your suggested changes.
- Would you recommend the book to a friend? Why? And who would you recommend it to?
- Would you buy another book written by his author? As Mickey Spillane says, ‘The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.’
This is not an in-depth assessment of the book, but it will help you to understand what you like to read and what you should be aware of when you start to write fiction.
© Amanda Patterson
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