Thursday, December 15, 2011

The World's Smallest Reading/Writing Lesson

Look look!  Hebrew cover from Kinneret-Zmora! ----->

So, a gazillion years ago, I wrote a post about Megan Whalen Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings, which included a picture of my own copy of the ARC. Afterwards, people kept asking me what was up with all the post-it flags, and I got all inspired and enthusiastic about writing a big long post about How to Read Books like a Writer. I was going to tell you all the things I'd flagged in A Conspiracy of Kings, then tell you why I'd flagged them. Unfortunately, Bitterblue yada yada, in other words, I never got the time, in addition to which, now that I look around, I can't find my copy of A Conspiracy of Kings anywhere. *directs suspicious glances at my sisters and other ne'er-do-wells*

So instead of that big grand post, I'm going to give you a teeny crappy post. :D? I'm going to share one tiny example of something I just flagged in the excellent book I'm currently reading, The Likeness, by Tana French:
When I was sure they were gone, I shut the door and stood still in the hallway, listening to the empty house. I could feel it settling, a long whisper like shifting sand, to see what I would do now. (p 124 of the 2008 Viking edition)
Here's the thing: when I read a book and find myself loving or admiring the writing, I'm always trying to learn from it. How is the writer making me feel this way? How is the writer being so evocative? How is the writer making it so damn easy for me to read this book?

So I flagged that line about the house, to remind myself that one small way to breathe life into a book is to breathe life into the book's important spaces. Almost everything I write has some sort of important domicile. Now that I've read this line by French, I want to remind myself to think about the spaces in my books, the buildings, and ask myself, what is my building like when my protagonist is alone? What does it feel like, what does it sound like, what kind of personality does it have? The next book I write will probably have moments where I try to do something with this. I also flagged this line:
The house felt huge and unwelcoming, the way a house sometimes does when you come back downstairs after you've closed up for the night: alien, withdrawn, focused on its own private business. (329)
Yet another reminder to try to think of new ways, when I'm writing, to breathe life into my settings.

Sometimes I'll read a book and flag nothing, or only one thing, because nothing much has sparked my writing brain; sometimes there aren't enough flags in the world for the book I'm reading. Sometimes a book is creating explosions in my mind with every single line and I don't flag anything because the whole damn book is a big waving, flapping flag.

I started doing this flagging thing when I started getting serious about writing. Once you find yourself trying to breathe life into people, places, dialogue, once you realize how hard and frustrating it is, it becomes impossible not to start deconstructing how other people do it.

And that's why I post-it flag the books I read. And to answer a frequently asked question, no, they're not color-coded. I will sometimes color-code the flags I use in my own manuscripts, in order to follow a single revision thread or a single character or WHATEVER all the way through, but I'm not that organized with the books I read.