Reading like a Writer

Writers don't read we study. We learn the craft by analyzing what's been done before. I read this often when I was first learning to write but never how do this. I, eventually,  learned how to pick a story apart through my literature classes as an undergrad.

So, to hopefully save you some confusion, I examined The Oblong Box by Poe from Tales of Mystery and Imagination to show you how to analyze a story.

When studying a story, especially one written by Poe, I always have Dictionary.com open. If I'm not absolutely sure of a word's meaning, I write it and the definition down. You better understand the story by doing this. Those words will live in your mind waiting for just the right opportunity to make you look good.

It also helps to go into a story knowing what you want to get from it. I read Poe because I love his language. I love language in general, actually, but Poe has an amazing way of using words in unusual ways.  

The Oblong Box starts with- "some years ago, I engaged passage from Charleston, SC...." I underlined "engaged passage" because I'd never seen engaged used like that. Further in is the line "I had nothing to do but to return home and digest my impatience at leisure." How awesome is "digest my impatience at leisure"! I underlined it and simply wrote "nice" in the margin.

Make notes of the plot points- subtle hints of things to come. At the beginning, the narrator, who will be traveling by ship, becomes obsessed with why his friend and fellow passenger, Wyatt, reserved "three state-rooms" when he only needed two. The narrator spends half the page wondering what the extra room is for; this lets you know the room is very important.

Ask yourself- why did the narrator become obsessed in the first place? Why didn't they simply ask Wyatt what the extra room was for? Wyatt was not the only person on the ship that the narrator knew, so why do they focus only on him?

Everything is in a story for a reason. Understand why the author included a detail and why they put it in that spot. 

A story is all about the careful release of information. Analyze, for example, what you know about the character and how the author revealed it to you. How did the author keep you turning the page?

Evaluate word choice to increase your vocabulary and add some spice to your story's language.

Always ask "why."