Comparative Reading for your Writing

While watching this Ted Talk video of Lisa Bu speak about how comparative reading gave her a new path to happiness, I found myself agreeing that comparative reading not only expands your knowledge, but it also has a positive impact on your writing.

Reading and writing go hand in hand. They are regarded as related language processes, where better readers tend to be better writers and vice versa. A writer first learned to read before they were able to write. The learning process began as reading a single simple letter and then, with practice and time, transcribing that letter over and over again until the correct formation of that letter is learned. When one letter is learned, then the next is studied, so on and so until the entire alphabet is consumed. The next step of this knowledge process is to read a sentence. Children first read and comprehend sentence structure, grammar, and syntax before they begin to write their own. Once this is assimilated, a child can evolve on to script out beautiful worlds of fantasy, haunting realms of horror, quizzical lands of mystery, and other far reaching places of wonder. When the basic concepts of reading and writing are mastered, an author is born and their path to storytelling becomes limitless.

Unfortunately, along their path some writers lose focus of reading. I have heard from several writers that they are too busy with their craft to read anymore. That fills me with such sorrow as reading is the basis on which their writing craft was established. In order to become a better writer, one must continually read!

For the writers who are able to find time to curl up with a good book, you must utilize your time reading to strengthen your writing. One such tactic is comparative reading.

Comparative reading is taking two individual texts with moderate similarities and analyzing the difference between the them. The texts may or may not be in the same genre. For example, you may have a plots that builds a coming of age story. This type of story can be found in several genres, such as fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and even horror. So pick one book from two of those genres and analyze both texts. You can also choose two texts with similar stories within the same genre, for example, Alison Croggon’s The Naming and Robyn LaRue’s Shadows Wake.

When you read, pay special attention to the structure of the books, especially if they are from two different genres. Look at the dialogue, themes, character development, literary elements, conflicts, plots, settings, and all the other little mechanics that make up a story. Absorb how each author portrays their ideas and integrates their creativity. Ask questions:

  • How do these components make both stories feel the same?
  • How do they make the stories different?
  • What does each author do to make their story unique?
  • What makes one book more successful than the other?

In performing a comparative analysis of two texts and perceiving what other successful authors are doing (and doing well), you will gain knowledge on what you need to do to strengthen your writing craft.

Want to up the ante on your writing with comparative reading? Pick two complementary books outside of your typical reading and writing genre. Analyze the components of those books and compare it against your own writing. Is there anything that you can pull from outside of your genre-of-interest to help better your writing craft?

Remember to read as much as you write. We can only become better writers if we become better readers.