Read Like a Writer

As writers, we read differently than most people.  It’s hard not to read just for the pleasure of the story and the characters without appreciating exactly how the author is excelling in his craft. 

Recently, I read The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.  The book’s publicity says it “intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.” 

I found the book on a library sale table and read it for its nonfiction narrative, and probably would have not bought it had I paid attention to the serial killer description, as it isn’t to my own personal tastes.  However, I will say it was a powerful, well-researched story that read like a novel. 

Here are two examples of setting I marked as examples of writing that stood out for me:

“The light in the room was sallow, the sun already well into its descent.  Wind thumped the windows.  In the hearth at the north wall a large fire cracked and lisped, flushing the room with a dry sirocco that caused frozen skin to tingle.”  

“Leaves hung in the stillness like hands of the newly dead.”    

Writing Prompt: 

  1. Look at the project you are working on at the moment.  What is happening with the light in your current scene?  The weather?  Sounds?  How does your character physically react?
  2. Using a theme of your book, create a simile like Larson did with leaves. 
  3. As you read, keep post-it notes handy and place them next to portions of writing which you admire.  Later, discover how the author crafted those pieces.  How can you model these within your own writing? 
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