Craft

Reading Critically As A Writer

If you’re looking for some homework, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to get to work today! So we talk a lot about craft but if we’re the pencil, we need the sharpener for the desired outcome to take place. So let’s get the sharpener, shall we?

Before We Begin

You decide what you’re going to get out of this homework. By this, I mean that you will get what you put into this assignment. There are some optional action items below so that you can decide how much you will zero in on what skills you need to sharpen as a writer. You could think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure craft assignment. You may or may not already know what your strengths are. Now is a great time to discover what those are and figure out ways that you can excel in your writing. That said, I suggest doing all of the steps. Make the most out of this homework. Let’s begin.

Task One: Favorite Books
1A) Make a list of all of your favorite YA books that were published in the last 1-3 years. For those who write middle grade or adult, make a list of all of your favorite MG or adult books published in the last 1-3 years. For those who write short stories or graphic novels, make a list of all of your favorite short stories published in the last 5 years or graphic novels published in the last 1-2 years.

It is important to be aware of what’s currently selling (and selling well) in the market so that you have a handle on what’s available for readers to gravitate towards and what resonates with readers over the current time. You’ll notice trends in the exterior, but once you get to reading, you may also notice trends when it comes to tropes and so forth that may come in waves. Some of these books can ride the wave, some of them cannot. For the purpose of this study, we are focusing on the interior, the work that you can control, so feel free to take notes on what works and what doesn’t as you read.

Example:

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh

King of Fools by Amanda Foody

Firestarter by Tara Sim

1B) Condense your list to stand alone novels if you’re working on a stand alone novel or novels that are first in a series/a sequel/last in a series depending on what you’re working on. This list is not exclusive to the genre that you are writing in though I do advise paying special attention to those books.

I cannot stress enough that you decide how much you will zero in on for this homework so condense in a way that works for you. Understand though that the more you read, the more widely you read, the better of an understanding you will have at what works and what doesn’t as a writer and storyteller.

So you’ve read some craft books and have written and revised a draft. Now what separates your story from the current releases on the shelves? You won’t know until you read those books. When it comes to the craft of writing, we begin to close the gap of the book as a file that only you know about to a draft that you’re working on with an editor if we understand what’s resonating with readers in the present day.

Example (Condensed List to Books First in a Series):

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Task Two: The First Line
2A) Never underestimate the power of a great first line. It compels the reader to read more. Read the first line of every book on the list of books/short stories that you made. Circle or check mark the lines that captivate you the most.

2B) Write the first lines down on paper or in Scrivener/Word and if you want to take it a step further, write down what makes each line captivating to you.

Example:

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

After they found the third body that year, Justin Hawthorne knelt in his backyard and prepared to hear his future.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

The first thing Silverfish had learned on board the Brackish was how to hold a knife.

There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

In the moonlit room overlooking the City of Faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Gu Miyoung’s relationship with the moon was complicated, as are most relationships centered around power.

Task Three: Voice / Wordsmith / Storyteller
3A) Read the first chapter of each book. It’s time to narrow down the list again. Which prose do you connect with the most not as a reader but as a writer? If someone were to read any of the novels on the list that you made, which books would then lead them to pick up your book next? You are not trying to imitate a voice, dialogue, tone or style of prose/storytelling. You want to hold onto these titles to understand the patterns of their writing and see how they held this momentum throughout the entire story.

3B) Once you’re a third into each book, consider narrowing down the list of books that you have based on format if you find that this wold be helpful. This may be helpful for those writing stories written in a nonlinear format, stories written in verse, epistolary, stream of consciousness, etc..

Task Four: World-building
Read the next two chapters of each book. It’s time to narrow down the list of books again. Which novels establish the world the best in the opening chapters? Which novels help you envision the world? How did they do that? Pay attention to descriptions and the sense of imagery that’s conjured. What did they mention? Write it all down.

Task Five: Characters
5A) What is the POV of the novel? If your story is told in first person, narrow the list to first person. Same for third person. If you want to go further, think about the diversity factors. If your list doesn’t reflect what you’re writing, consider what you haven’t been reading. If you want to take it an extra step and narrow it to First Person Present Tense or Third Person Past Tense, etc… for the purpose of studying how to nail your book, please do not hesitate to do so. If your story is told through multiple POV, narrow down your list to books only told in multiple POV.

5B) Take chapter by chapter notes of the character development. How did they balance the supporting characters and how did each supporting character serve the story? At what points in the story does the author develop romantic and non-romantic relationships? How are the relationships strengthened or weakened throughout the story and how does that impact the MC?

Task Six: Plot
Pay attention to when and how the Inciting Incident, the Climax, the Plot Twist(s), and the Resolution are executed. Mark these moments down. Pay attention means take notes. Pay attention to foreshadowing. Pay attention to how stakes are raised, how tropes are used, emotional resonance. Pay attention to the pacing and how the author decides to end each chapter (the where, the when, the how). If you need to learn how to write romantic scenes, action scenes, etc.. bookmark those scenes and go line by line to see what was written and the order and detail in which the scene is laid out.

Task Seven: Gather Your Notes & Go Forth
Gather your notes. Read them over. Let what worked sink in. Take the time that you need to make or revise your own plan (perhaps an outline with the beats laid out for every chapter) for your manuscript. Make a to do list for how you can elevate each chapter of your manuscript as you head into revisions. Then, revise!

Action Item List:

1A: Make a List of You Favorite MG/YA/Adult Books/Graphic Novels/Short Stories Published Recently

1B: Condense the list to stand alone novels, first in a series, sequels, or last in a series depending on what your manuscript is.

2A: Read the first line of every book on the list of books/short stories that you made. Circle or check mark the lines that captivate you the most.

2B: Write the first lines down on paper or in Scrivener/Word and then write down what makes it captivating to you.

3A: Read the first chapter of each book. Condense your list to the prose you connected with the most as a writer.

4: Read the next two chapters of each book. Condense your list to the novels that establish the world the best in the opening chapters and write down how they accomplished this.

5A: Condense the list to the novels that have the same POV (and if you want to take it a step further, tense) as your manuscript.

3B: Once you’re a third of the way into each book, consider narrowing down the list based on the format that suits your homework (nonlinear, verse, epistolary, stream of consciousness, etc..).

5B: Take chapter by chapter character notes.

6: Take chapter by chapter plot notes.

7: Read your notes. Let the notes sink in. Make or revise a to do list for how you can elevate each chapter of your manuscript. Revise!

Happy writing and revising!

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