Why Your Teacher Had It Right image

Do you remember back in school, thinking “when am I ever going to use this?” every single time your teacher made you read a book and write a report about it?  Well guess what?  Now that you’re all grown up and writing your own stories, maybe it’s time you revisited these nightmarish assignments and looked a little deeper.

Book reports and summaries are probably the best thing you can do to advance your writing and the success of your stories.  By taking a few simple notes after reading each chapter of a book, you’ll be able to improve your plot, conflict, characters, and the all-around flow of your story, and best of all, it’s nowhere near as hard and tedious as it sounds.

Start with the three sentence approach.  Almost every chapter is built like a mini-plot of the story: beginning, middle, end, and fueled by some sort of conflict.  It needs to have a reason for being included in the story.  Your job is to find that reason.  The challenge of this is to keep your summary short.  If you’re writing too much after each chapter, reviewing the story later will become a chore and you won’t keep up with it.  Summaries aren’t meant to go into detail.  Aim for three sentences and never write more than five per paragraph per chapter.

Another handy tool to use is keeping character profiles.  As you read and notice different things about the story’s characters, write them down.  Things like their looks, clothes, passions, hates, what drives them, and what scares them.  After you’ve read a few books, and kept a record of the characters, you’ll see that a lot of thought goes into each and every character.  And the stories that don’t put a lot of thought into characters are probably the ones you enjoyed the least.  By keeping track of these characters, you’ll know exactly the kind of things you should be thinking about in all of your future writings.

There’s just one last thing to keep an eye out for before you’re ready to go.  Look for the style of narrative.  Is it first, second, or third person?  Is the author able to tell you how all the characters are feeling and what they are thinking, or does he limit himself to only one or two?  The choice of narrative has the most drastic effect on the story.  Identify the narrative, think about why it was chosen, and lastly think about what the story would have been like if the author chose a different method.  By becoming familiar with the different methods of writing, you’ll be able to weigh the pros and cons of each and chose the form that’s right for you story.

The best thing about doing this on your own is that you don’t have to write up a full report if you don’t want to.  Not to mention the fact that you’re not getting graded on your work.  Keep it simple and fun and you’ll be writing better stories in no time.

Published January 1, 2012

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