Reading is something that writers are expected to do a lot, but the kind of reading is rarely, if ever, specified.
In this blog post I’ll go over the difference between active vs passive reading, and how it can affect your writing.
Active Reading vs Passive Reading
Active reading is the process of actively analyzing the material that you’re reading. Passive reading is just letting yourself be swept along for the ride.
What can you analyze while reading?
You Can Analyze the Characters
You can start by analyzing the characters. The characters are usually introduced right away, where as the main plot usually starts up at around the 1/8 mark of the story.
Because of this, you can start analyzing characters right away, to learn what makes a good (or bad) character.
When analyzing characters, you’ll want to pay special attention to:
- The dialogue
- The personality traits
- The interactions with other characters
Characters will usually have 2 or 3 main personality traits that stick out, and so with a bit of observation, you should be able to get an idea for the traits that define their characteristics.
While these personality traits may stick out in the way they act around their friends or when they’re alone, how the characters interact with other characters may seem contradictory to their main traits.
For example, a normally submissive and shy character may become very aggressive and dominant towards someone they don’t trust.
That’s because humans are complicated beings, and learning how to predict human interaction can be tricky.
By analyzing the characters in the books you read, you’ll gain a better understanding on how to write multi-dimensional, fleshed out, and realistic characters.
You Can Analyze the Plot
Another thing you can analyze while actively reading is the plot.
You can do this by taking note of where the plot points are in the story, what plot twists come up, and guessing what will happen next.
Analyzing where the plot points are in the story is important, as it will give you a sense for how to pace things, and also about how the components of story telling work.
Guessing what will happen next will also sharpen your writing skills, as you’ll learn to more aptly identify foreshadowing, and learn what goes into a successful plot twist.
You Can Analyze the Writing Style
You can also analyze the writing style while actively reading.
Analyzing the writing style will help you understand how the writer describes things, and which words flow well with other words, so that you can do the same.
How Can Active Reading Affect Your Writing?
Active reading can improve your writing, much more than passive reading can.
Learn from Others’ Mistakes
Humans learn best from mistakes, but no one’s said that they have to be your mistakes. By actively reading, you can pick up on others’ mistakes and learn from them, before you make those mistakes yourself.
Whenever you can, try to actively read. You’ll learn both from successes and failures, but you will learn more from analyzing mistakes and what doesn’t work than by analyzing successes.
Why would you learn more from what doesn’t work than by what does work?
Because for everything that doesn’t work, there’s usually a rule that says it doesn’t work.
For everything that does work, there is a guideline hidden behind a smoke screen that says that something along those lines will work.
In other words, mistakes tend to be hard and fast rules, whereas successes tend to have loose guidelines around them.
Actively Read Your Own Writing
Active reading can also help you when reading your own writing, by allowing you to analyze the mistakes you’ve made, and how to fix them.
From finding large-scale plot holes, to finding small continuity errors in your paragraphs, actively reading your own writing will help you find the mistakes more easily.
Do you enjoy active reading?
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I blog on Wednesdays, so check back next week for some new content!