A New Twist to My 2017 Reading Challenge: Critical Reading
People who’ve been around me—either virtually here on the blog or in person—have heard me use the term “critical reading” before. It’s something that I highly recommend, especially to new authors as well as to anyone who’s having a hard time connecting with their chosen genre. It’s something I learned how to do in graduate school.
It may sound like hyperbole to call it a “master class,” but that’s really what it is. If we take the time to look at the “best” of our genre—not just our favorites, but those that have received critical acclaim, both from readers and from critics of the genre who know what they’re talking about (I’m looking more at those that have won awards from the major genre associations like RWA and MWA and SCBWI, not professional book reviewers—like those at newspapers—who tend to hate and denigrate genre fiction).
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of my goals this year is to write a novella for the very first time. I’ve never been able to write a complete story shorter than 75,000 words. A novella should be under 35,000 words (but longer than 20-25,000). So for me, this will mean learning new structure, pacing, characterization, plotting, etc., as I work to tell an entire, coherent, interesting, engaging story in less than half the amount of words that I’m used to.
I have on my calendar a date by which to find some workshops, classes, or other online training so I can study this new (to me) method of storytelling. However, I put that on my goals list/calendar before I’d remembered that there’s an even better way for me to learn how to do this: by critical reading.
I spent over an hour Friday evening on Goodreads, adding historical romance novellas with high-ish star ratings into a new list of just novellas. And I’m adding to the date I have set to find the workshops/classes/whatever that I will have chosen at least five novellas to read critically.
What is critical reading and how does it differ from regular reading?
Critical reading is reading to figure out the mechanics behind a whole work, and to try to see it from an academic viewpoint. What is the structure? How are the characters introduced and then developed? What are the specific beats this story hits—and where do they fall within the structure? What makes this book fit within what’s known about the genre? Where does it deviate? What makes it work? What is it about this particular story/writing that would lead to its being published? And so on.
If you’re interested in learning more about critical reading to see if it’s a tool you’d like to add to your reader/writer toolbox, check out the full series here: Critical Reading
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