Reading Exercise: The First Chapter

Unsure of what book to start next?  I’ve been there and have a quick solution to your literary dilemma.

Pick the three or four you’re most interested in and read the first chapter of each.  Which grabbed you fastest and compelled you to keep reading? 

Boom.  You’ve found your next book.

Happy Reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Readers, How Do You Choose What Books You Read?

When walking down the aisles of a library or bookstore or looking at books online, what traits does a book need to pique your interest?  With millions of books to choose from, I thought we could explore the possibilities of what gets us to pick up a book and want to read it.

Cover

We all know the cliché, but we often judge a book by its cover design.  Does it grab you?  Does it intrigue you?  Are there elements on the cover that make you curious about the story?  Does the 30% off sticker on the cover at Target get your attention?

If the cover is linked to the book’s film or TV adaptation, does that make you want to read it more or less?  

Do faces or images draw you in?

Author

An established author’s name on a book’s cover, like the name of an A-list star on a movie poster, can make many readers more interested in reading than an unknown author.  Do you gravitate toward a known author like Stephen King or James Patterson, or do you prefer to read books by new authors?

From my own experience, I often gravitate to familiar authors because I know their style and know there will be some aspect of the story I will enjoy just from their past books.

At the same time, readers can become so used to an author’s formula that they stray away from their works and seek other authors with a similar vibe to their writing.  This is how I discovered Ronald Malfi’s books this summer when I wanted to read a horror novel other than Stephen King’s.

Back of the Book

You saw the cover, picked up the book, and flipped it over.  In that brief series of paragraphs, was there something that hooked you and made you want to read more?  How are the story and its characters presented in a basic form that makes you want to dig deeper?

Is this something you look at, or do you overlook this and trust your gut that the book will be good based on other factors?

Genre

“I’ll read anything that’s romance,” “If it’s fantasy, I’m in.”  Are you more of a genre loyalist than a person married to a specific author’s work?  Do you love to read anything and everything in a particular genre and weed out the great from the mediocre?  

If you stick to one genre, do you notice what authors handle tropes and cliches better than others or authors that rise above these genre traits?

Topic

This is more toward non-fiction books.  Do you have specific topics you lean toward, either history or current events?  Are you interested in biographies, autobiographies, and the myriad of personalities they cover?

Do you tend to look for books on topics where you know you’ll agree with the author’s point of view or oppose their viewpoints?

Reviews/Media

If an author or their book is on every morning show or late-night talk show, does that make you want to read the book more?  Does their presence on the small screen make their books better than others?  

What about reviews?  I’ve seen one-star reviews for books I love and five-star reviews for books I wasn’t impressed by.  Do you use the objectivity of others to influence what you choose to read, or do you read what you want?  

Word of Mouth

Have you read a book based on the recommendation of a friend or family member?  Have you felt the unneeded pressure to like the book because a friend loved it so much? 

Final Thoughts

Like movies, TV shows, and video games, everyone has personal preferences regarding what books they choose to spend their free time reading.  How we choose those books and the criteria we use brings us to that moment of opening a new book that makes the activity all the more enjoyable.

So, how do you pick a book to read?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Happy Reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Readers, Have You Ever Given Up on a Book?

I’m an avid reader.  I love to read a variety of books.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Long books and short.  Sometimes it can take a few chapters for me to get into a book, but usually, once things get moving, I’m in for the duration.

But sometimes, I hit a wall.  For some reason, there are books that I can’t get into, and I can’t stay focused and can’t stick with the book.  I have tried to read a handful of books more than once and still have trouble getting into them.

One this year was Gone with the Wind.  I kept falling asleep while reading, which was never a good sign, and I had to give up.

Another was written by one of my favorite authors.  I’ve started it about four times and can’t get past the first 50 pages without reaching for another book.

Okay, I’ll tell you what it is.  It’s Stephen King’s The Stand.  I’ve read dozens of King’s books, but I just can’t get into this one.  Has anyone else had this problem?  It is about as long, and I had no issues diving into that one.

So, why does this happen?  I can’t be the only reader this has happened to.  It’s weird when a book is no longer being read for enjoyment; it’s now an assignment. 

Is it worth the multiple attempts to reread a book with thousands of books to read, or is it truly a fool’s errand?

Have any of you encountered this problem?  

Have you had trouble getting into a book from an author you love?

Have you fought through the wall and finished the book, or given up and moved on to another book?  

Leave a comment and let me know.

Happy Reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Reading Tip of the Week: Planning Ahead for 2023

January 1, 2023, is only a mere 108 days away, and it got me thinking about my reading goals for the coming year. Is it too early to create a reading plan? Perhaps. But, with my current reading goal of 25 books almost completed – I’m at 22 read so far – I was starting to figure out my reading goal for next year.

And, planning ahead of time helps distance it from the stigma of being a New Year’s resolution.

So, let’s talk about it!

Why Have a Plan?

I used to read whatever I wanted and as many or as few books as I felt like each year. But when I started setting a yearly reading goal, it turned reading into a goal-oriented activity. It was a great way to turn off the TV and open a book since I had a set number of books I wanted to read in a year.

A reading plan can also help you stay focused and create a basic schedule to help you reach your chosen reading goal.

How Many Books?

If you’ve never set a reading goal, start with 12 books for the year. That’s one a month, which should be fairly manageable. If you’re an avid reader like myself, you can double that.  

I have seen several people posting their completed 2022 reading goals on social media. One woman has read 172 books and her goal was 80!

Start with a basic number, and if you find yourself burning through books faster than you anticipated, you can always change your goal. For example, I initially started 2022 wanting to read 20 books but realized I would hit that sooner than later, so I upped it to 25.

What Books?

Simple answer: read what you like.  

More complex answer: Vary what you read, so you don’t get into a monotonous cycle that makes you dread picking up a book.  

I like to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, and I also will pick a theme for my non-fiction and stick to it throughout the year. For example, in 2020, I read several non-fiction books about pandemics and plagues throughout history. In 2021, I read about world history. This year, I’ve been focused on biographies about actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

And in between, I read fiction.

Now, you can spin the wheel and choose what books to read and in what order at random, or you can plan out what you’ll read and when you plan to read it.

What About Page Count?

After I read a 900-page biography, I’m not ready to dive into another entry in the Game of Thrones series. I’ll usually grab a shorter book from my shelf or on my Kindle and burn through that before I start another longer book.

Variety is a key factor in keeping the reading momentum going. If you read one of your kid’s books, count it. Reading is reading, and any book you read can count toward your goal total.

Where Can I Keep Track?

You can use several sites and apps to keep track and record your progress. I use Goodreads.com, but apps like StoryGraph or Bookly can work just as well.

Find a site or app that you like and stick with it. Then work toward your 2023 reading goal, knowing that you now have the power to track and complete your stated target.

Final Thoughts

I know it’s early for this post, but, like holiday shopping, sometimes it’s never too early to start thinking about what’s coming sooner than you think.  

By setting a target reading goal and mapping out what you want to read, you can set yourself up for reading success in 2023 and be even more prepared for 2024!

Happy Planning and Reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Reading & Writing Exercise: Pick a Chapter, Any Chapter?

It’s time to do some homework!  I know, I know.  But this is valuable homework that can help you become a stronger writer by breaking down and analyzing a published author’s work.

The Assignment

Pick a book – preferably one you’ve read and enjoyed – then choose a random chapter.  Read the chapter from beginning to end two or three times, familiarizing yourself with the style, genre, story points, etc.  

Now, it’s time to dive deeply into the chapter and get into what makes it tick.

The Questions

Ask yourself the following questions as you dig into the chapter.  You may want to write down or type your answers as go:

  • What characters are present in the chapter?
  • What are the relationships between the characters in the chapter?
  • What is the POV of the chapter (first person, third person, third person limited, omniscient)?  Whose POV are we in?
  • What’s the main conflict in the chapter?
  • What information is known at the start of the chapter?
  • What new information is provided or discovered by the end of the chapter?
  • Is there any subtext in the dialogue between the characters?
  • Does the chapter deal with the main plot or a subplot?
  • Does the chapter end on a cliffhanger?  Does the end of the chapter compel you to keep reading?
  • If you’ve read the book, how does this chapter fit into the overall narrative structure of the novel?
  • Are there any weak points or areas of the chapter you feel could be improved?

What’s the Point?

By taking time to analyze a work you enjoy, you can see how the author has structured each chapter as building blocks or puzzle pieces that fit together to create a complete story.  While this is an exercise to delve into one chapter, you can also do this for an entire book to deconstruct the structure, conflict, story, etc.  

You can also do this with screenplays, plays, or short stories to really get a sense of the structure and other elements that make the story work.

Happy Reading and Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Reading Challenge: Trying Out a New Author or Genre

I’m a huge Stephen King fan and an avid reader of his novels.  This past month when I was on vacation, I went to Barnes & Noble and found a new author in the horror genre: Ronald Malfi.  I had never read any of his books before, so I took a gamble and bought one of his books.

I’ve found a new favorite author!

The next time you’re at the bookstore, on Amazon, or considering buying a book from an author you know, consider trying out a new author in the same genre.  You can also experiment and try a new genre outside your comfort zone.  If you love fantasy, try romance; if you love sci-fi, try historical fiction, etc.  

Or, if you are a hardcore fiction reader, try a non-fiction book on a topic that interests you.

It’s easy to get locked into reading patterns – I know I do – but every once in a while, give yourself the challenge of trying out a new genre or author.  You may not like it and run back to what’s familiar, but at least you know you tried.

Or you’ll be like me and find a new author to enjoy.

Happy Reading, and I’ll see you next time!

What authors or genres have you tried and found you enjoyed?  Leave a comment and let me know!

How Not to Play the Guitar – A Writing Analogy

Happy 2021! I’m sure by now you’ve thought about some goals you’d like to achieve in the new year. Whether those goals are big or small, it’s always good to have something new and exciting to look forward to as the calendar turns back to January.  

For many people, this may involve taking up and new hobby or learning a new skill, which can lead many down a fascinating rabbit hole of reading and research that may not be as productive as they may think.  

Let’s start with an example of this: You want to learn how to play the guitar in 2021.

A great goal. You’ve thought about playing the guitar for a while. You’ve seen people you know, and also famous people do it so effortlessly that you want to enjoy making music as much as they do. You go online and decide to buy several books about playing the guitar.

You wait for the books to arrive, eagerly awaiting the guitar-playing wisdom each book will reveal. Upon their arrival, you read three, and all three present different methods about how to play the guitar.

Now, this whole time, despite having the guitar, you haven’t picked it up once. Sure, you’ve looked at it, thought about playing it, but every time you read a book about playing the guitar and feel confident about playing, you still feel you need to find the “best” way to play.

And so, you read about playing the guitar. And the guitar sits there, alone, un-played.

Now, you’ve finished the books. You’ve highlighted paragraphs, bookmarked pages, told people about the books and how exciting guitar playing is…and suddenly you feel an unforeseen pressure. Not to pick up the guitar. It’s the pressure that with all the tips, tricks, tools, and methods you’ve just learned, your brain is suddenly overwhelmed. 

Now that thing you wanted to do, that wonderful music you wanted to create, your passion for actually learning is stamped out because you spent so long reading and not doing, and you psyched yourself out of it.

This can happen to aspiring writers, too. In fact, anything creative can have the excitement and adventure of discovery killed off by reading about it instead of doing it.  

I’m guilty of this, too.

I’ve written many screenplays and have dozens of screenwriting books. Each one has a different methodology of how a screenplay’s structure is composed. While the outcome is the same – a 110-page screenplay – the rules set forth by each author differ. Read a few of these books in succession, and you’ll be confused and terrified to break the “rules” you’ve read about screenwriting.

Put the books down.  

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you know the basics? Beginning? Middle? End? Do you have characters and a setting to go with those three pieces? A central conflict? If you do, great. Sit down and write it out. No books. No rules. No worksheets.  

Just story.

Now, as you expand and craft the story, if you need guidance about how to craft good dialogue or how to show and not tell, these are when those books can come in handy. They should be seen as reference guides to help your writing, not tutorials on how to write.

We are all storytellers. We know the basics. We’ve seen movies, TV shows, plays, short films, documentaries, and read novels. As a writer, your job is to take what you already know about how stories work and make it your own. 

Much like the guitar analogy, writers must do the work to get the experience. We all start as amateurs or beginners, but you will get better with time, patience, and actual hands-on practice. While reading about it or listening to interviews is fine, don’t let that take away from doing the work yourself. Those books and interviews will always be around.

Whether it’s writing, playing the guitar, sculpting, or running a marathon, take the time to invest your time in learning by doing. Future you will be grateful.

See you next week!

Are You a Writer Who Reads?

I love to read. If I see a book I think I would enjoy, I either buy it or add it to my wish list. My coworker buys me books for my birthday and Christmas. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, I don’t Google it; I try and find a book about the topic instead.  Reading has always played a significant role in my life and my education post-school, and it’s an activity that I enjoy.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I have a feeling King knows what he’s talking about.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take the time to read.  Not books about writing, which I’ll talk about next week, but a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.  

Read Outside Your Genre

If you are an author who writes primarily in a specific genre – Young Adult, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, etc. – I encourage you to read novels that aren’t from your chosen realm. While it’s essential to know and understand your genre’s tropes, themes, and other elements, it’s equally important to see how different genres work within their various story conventions to see what you can learn. You can often glean some new bit of story structure or character development idea from a novel outside your chosen area of expertise.

Read Different Authors 

We often get comfy with a couple authors we enjoy and stick with them. Dare to pick authors you may not be familiar with and read their works as well.  Your favorite author isn’t going anywhere.  

Read Books from Other Decades

We are creatures of habit. Most of the time, if it’s a book that’s a current best-seller, or one on display at Target, it’s the book we grab to read. However, it’s also important to delve into the past and read authors whose work lives long after their passing. The classics have inspired authors for generations, and by looking at these works, you can learn new aspects of storytelling that you can possibly apply to your work.

Read History, Autobiographies, and Biographies

The real world can offer up some great story ideas, and you can learn a thing or two along the way. Real human beings, human behavior, and human drama can sometimes be more engaging and fascinating than fiction, and these types of books can give you a fresh perspective on topics you think you know about.

Read to Learn

As you read, observe how the author crafts their chapters, characters, and story arcs.  Look at how they format certain things.  For example, I’ve seen text messaging and phone calls formatted in many different ways in novels, depending on the author. 

If you found yourself up until 3 in the morning not wanting to put the books down, ask yourself why? What was it about the story, the characters, or the pacing that made you have to keep reading?  These are elements you can analyze and apply to your work as well.  

Always Go with Variety

If you’ve plotted out your 2021 reading list, consider adding books and authors you usually wouldn’t read. Maybe an author whose work you don’t enjoy, or one whose opinions bother you. Look at them less as annoying reading assignments and more like learning opportunities. Each book you open can inform your own writing methodology and how you create your worlds and story.  

And all you need to do is turn to Chapter One and start reading.

As a writer, how do you decide what books to read?  Leave a comment and let me know!