Reading Like a Writer (and Editor)

August 3, 2016 by Evan Braun

Nearly gone are the days when I read strictly for pleasure. Don’t get me wrong: I still get a lot of enjoyment out of reading. The day I stop enjoying reading is likely to be several days (or weeks) after the world ends.

So I should be more specific. Nearly gone are the days when I get so swept away by a story that I’m reading to find out what happens next and can’t put the book down. When it comes to fiction, I mostly read to learn. I don’t read like a reader; I read like a writer (and editor).

What does that mean? For many years now, I’ve noticed that I enjoy re-reading more than reading a book for the first time. That used to puzzle me, but I think I’ve figured out why. I no longer enjoy the uncertainty/anxiety/thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen next, because my enjoyment doesn’t come from experiencing the story in real-time. Rather, my greatest enjoyment comes from observing how an author has effectively built the story.

In other words, I’m studying the way the book is constructed, and the only way to appreciate the construction is to be able to step back and understand the book as a whole—beginning, middle, and end. How does this aspect of the plot build momentum? How does this character and his/her motivation drive the story? What sort of foreshadowing/clues are present in this scene description to re-enforce the ending? You can’t really know the answer to these questions until you’ve reached the end. Which is why I love to read a good book a second or third time.

Invariably when I talk to another reader about this, they give me a funny look. The stink-eye. They usually say something along these lines: “There are so many books to read in this world. Why would you read a single book more than once? It’s a waste of time!” And if your primary enjoyment is to experience a story as it progresses and resolves, that makes a lot of sense.

As a writer, I have always wanted to find out how great books are put together. A book doesn’t exist for me as a piece of entertainment; each book is a case study.

When a certain kind of car enthusiast encounters a 1952 Aston Martin, they don’t just want to look at it from the outside. They want to drive it. And then they want to pop the hood and dig around inside. And then they want to drive it again.

I read a book forensically to see the technique, the structure, the tactics. Why does it suceeed, or fail? Why do two similar stories affect readers so differently? Why does one book produce emotional reactions, and the other only a disinterested eyebrow raise?

So yeah, I mostly read to learn. And that may sound dreary to some, but to me it produces the greatest thrills.

About this Contributor

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Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.