A month ago, I did some work at a primary school. My job was to help 8-9 year old children with their reading and literacy skills. I believe some of the advice I was given to help them is applicable to us. How can we get better at writing if we don’t read? It’s rather like grammar; if we read writing that has good grammar, we tend to copy its style. The same applies to fiction. If we observe how other people’s fiction is written, we can know the difference between good and bad style. Here, I have adapted some of the key points from the handbook I was given for adults:
1. Higher order reading skills
This is thinking about the story beyond the narrative; rather, thinking about characters, real life situations and social context. Knowing why you have an opinion is a good place to start, and you should ask “why?”. These can be developed by reading articles in newspapers and magazines, reading reviews or going onto somewhere like Goodreads.
This is making sure you have understood what is happening in the book or poem. Do you know what happens in the story? Could you summarise a chapter in a paragraph? Are there any quotes which might he useful? Perhaps read an edition to with a glossary or footnotes, especially if it is academic, and think if you need to do the same. If you need to when reading, or writing, you might want to consult a dictionary for the meaning of a word.
3. Plot, or “story mountains”
Ah yes, the classic illustration to demonstrate how a plot works. We have rising, falling and building action. However, it might be worth keeping in mind that a writer’s version of the story mountain might differ to the reader’s, in terms of structure and terms. For instance, a writer might have: part 1, chapters 1-22 are the exposition. Whereas a reader might think “the moment where Lisa falls down the hole is the main conflict”.
4. Bloom’s Taxonomy
This diagram is, in part, an illustration of the book comprehensionImagine you’re in a book club or seminar, asking the members questions about the book. There are several categories, illustrated in the flower design, that indicate the parts of reading, such as knowledge and evaluation, which put your skills to the test.
-Accept and note the areas that you have trouble with, whether they include dialogue, structure, characterization, setting, etc. Know and embrace the fact that you have room to improve.
-Pick a story or a book (or a few!) that really made an impression on you in terms of style, tone, and connection. It should be something that you don’t mind reading again, and that you would give a glowing review.
-Read the story slowly. Take your time. Figure out how that story…
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