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Critical Reading: As You Read (in General)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hey, all! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday filled with too much food and tons of love and loved ones. I had a great time in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with my family, including spending Friday at my uncle’s home watching LSU’s chance at this year’s National Championship slip away. (But I still love my boys—and it’s awfully hard to be mad when the Arkansas defensive player who sacks our quarterback is named Weston DACUS!)

Did you get any reading done over the holiday? I did. I took two books with me—one that’s the book I’ve chosen to read critically and one which was supposed to be saved to read afterward for pleasure. Why did I take it? Because I have no willpower. So, I ended up reading James Patterson’s The Lake House over the long weekend. It was enjoyable, but not quite as good as the first book (When the Wind Blows). It felt really good to knock out a book in less than four days, as reading for pleasure is something I’ve struggled with since learning to become a critical reader. So, again, I’ll give the caveat that while critical reading is important, don’t forget how to read for pleasure too!

What to look for as you read.

Now we’re going to get into some more nit-picky areas/questions to consider as you continue reading your book for critical review.

  1. Do you notice any word/language patterns and/or repetitions that don’t work or become distracting? Does the author have a tendency to use clichéd language? Overuse similies? Use mixed-metaphors? Is there anything about the technical aspect of the choice of language that pulls you out of the story or you feel isn’t used well/is overused?
  2. Does the author stay consistent with authorial voice/tone throughout the book? Is there ever a time when you feel like you’re all of a sudden reading something written by someone else?
  3. If there is more than one POV character, does each have a unique voice, or do they all “sound” alike?
  4. Is the dialogue natural? Does it match the time period/region? Is it appropriate for the characters? Is it different from the narrative? Do all the characters use grammatically correct sentence structure when they speak? Do POV characters’ dialogue match their narrative? If the author uses phonetic spellings for dialect, is it distracting? Do you have to read the dialects aloud to figure out what it says?
  5. Is the author staying true to the theme you picked up on in the first chapter? Or now that you’ve read further, have you adjusted your concept of what the theme of the story actually is?
  6. Has anything surprised you in a good way?
  7. Has anything surprised you in a bad way?
  8. What are the subplots? Do they support the main plot or distract from it? Can you make connections between the subplot and the main plot, or does it seem totally random?
  9. Does the story drag anywhere? Do you find yourself skimming passages or wanting to put the book down because you’re losing interest?
  10. Does each chapter end with a hook that makes you want to read more?
  11. Did the author do adequate research? Does the author come across as an authority on the subject / occupation / time period / technology / etc. used in the book?
  12. Is there ever a time when you feel like the author is trying to teach a lesson or get a personal message across?
  13. If it is an inspirational/Christian novel, is the faith element woven in naturally, or does the author come across as “preachy”?

Next time: what to look for with Characters.

  1. Monday, November 26, 2007 8:49 am

    Those are great questions. I’ve found I do far more skimming nowadays than I used to–now I need to figure out why. Usually it’s toward the end of the book when I just want to find out what happens, and anything besides letting me know what happens feels like dragging. I also find my eye more drawn toward dialogue than it used to be, and I read the tags, etc much quicker.


  2. Monday, November 26, 2007 5:50 pm

    Kansas’ hopes went the way of LSU’s. 😦 But I did notice DACUS from Arkansas. How cool.

    I’ve been practicing my critical reading, honing my skills. You should teach a class on this at a writer’s conference. 😀


  3. Seralynn Lewis permalink
    Tuesday, October 11, 2016 7:13 pm

    Do you ever find while doing critical reading that the author forgot something in the detail of the story? That is, that a detail described earlier in the story is different later on in the story? I’ve seen that happen a number of times in just reading for pleasure and it’s sometimes confusing and sometimes it’s annoying.


    • Tuesday, October 11, 2016 7:22 pm

      Yes, I find this more often than I should—especially in my own writing, which is why it’s so important for me as a writer that I have time to set my manuscript aside for a little while before doing revisions after finishing a first draft. It’s also why I keep detailed lists/info in a “story bible” as I’m writing. But it still happens.



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