Reading Like a Writer

You can take a course or read a book purporting to teach you to “read like a writer.” I’m not sure why you’d want to unless you’re a writer.

I say this because sometimes I let my critical leanings get in the way of enjoyment. I might even stop reading and rewrite a passage. (I even do this with the newspaper on occasion.)

Here’s a passage from Summerlost, a novel for fifth to eighth grade readers, by Ally Condie. Cedar is a girl whose grief resurfaces long after her little brother’s death.

Excerpt: (My grandparents) knew that Ben’s favorite kind of ice cream wasn’t ice cream at all, it was rainbow sherbet, and he always ate the green first, and so when I saw it in my grandma’s freezer once and I started crying they didn’t even ask why and I think I saw my uncle Nick, my mom’s brother, crying too.

My Take-away: I applaud the author for creating a scene that evokes an experience of grief the reader can feel. Seeing the sherbet is an excellent trigger for this poignant moment. If I were to rewrite this passage, I think it could engage the reader more intimately if it hadn’t required so much explanation. Let the reader know long before that Ben loved sherbet and ate the green first. Then all Cedar (and the reader) has to do is see the sherbet still sitting in the freezer long after Ben’s death to have an emotional response. And don’t say again that it was Ben’s favorite ice cream as that would suggest the reader doesn’t have an intimate relationship with the story. I’d also lose “My grandparents knew . . .” as over-explaining. Finally, the reader should know before this that uncle Nick is her mother’s brother.

6 thoughts on “Reading Like a Writer

  1. The lady doth explain too much, methinks.

    I sometimes hate reading like a writer because I often catch my own irritating foibles (like over-explaining) in the work of others. Of course, the practice on someone else’s work makes my own writing more precise. Some days, though, I just want to enjoy a book rather than dissect its flaws.

  2. Ally Condie is a fabulous writer. I wonder if she wrote it this way because her audience is rather young and some kids do require over-explaining to digest novels. If this were for us adults, I’m with you on how it should be written. All she should do is open up that freezer and burst into tears!

  3. While I agree with your rewrite, I also agree with Susan’s comment on the age group. I sometimes read books for that age group just for the joy of reading but my inner writer/critic keeps trying to comment on it. Sometimes you just want an easy, enjoyable (even if it’s emotional) read without mentally checking how you would write it. That’s as much the pain of a high-level reader reading a kid’s book as it is the pain of a writer reading someone else’s work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *