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Three highlights from my reading practice: See how they could make you a better writer

I love the inspiration and ideas I receive from reading different genres and authors. Whether I’m turning the pages of a physical book or one on my Kindle or iPad, I write about what I’m reading.

Sticky notes work great for actual books, and on my Kindle, I highlight and make notes on the screen about passages that grab my attention. I track how authors created a certain mood, tone, or emotional response. If I see a good example of dialogue or a stellar sensory description, I note it. The notes make it easy to go back and review what I learned and what I enjoyed about the book.

Here are several examples of my highlights:

In the thriller Third Strike by Zoe Sharp, the protagonist Charlie Fox suffers the blow of being shocked by a stun gun. I was struck myself by the description of Charlie’s reaction:

The pain had a jagged quality all its own, ripping out chunks of my nervous system and spinning them away like debris from an explosion, so that some parts of my mind seemed magnified a hundred times and others were just big blank holes of frenzied nothingness. Next thing I knew I was on the floor, my body rigid. I was peripherally aware that my head was banging on the concrete and that was probably not a good thing, but I couldn’t stop the twitching dance of my limbs. My hands had distorted into the twisted claws of an arthritis-ravaged geriatric. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. It was the worst cramp I’d ever had in my life, the most violent fever, the meanest hangover, all rolled into one.

Sharp not only wrote a vivid description, I felt the authority of her words. Her description seemed so realistic and rang so true that I almost wondered if she’d been shocked herself at some point by a stun gun.

In the novel, The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, the authors use sensory details to describe emotion and fear. Sigita, a mother who has been drugged, wakes up in the hospital with a broken arm and concussion after a fall. She goes home and is unable to find her 3-year-old son Mikas. Her neighbor asks her if she’s okay.

“Yes,” said Sigita through her teeth, though nausea sloshed in her throat like water in a bucket.

And in a description of a crowded and hot railway station, the authors write:

People were tetchy in the heat, with their clothes and their tempers sticking to them.

Readers want to be immersed in the world of your story. Writing vivid descriptions will take them there.

Exercise: Take a few sections of your manuscript and see if you can amplify the emotion or find a twist on how you describe a feeling or emotion.

Related posts:

Read well to write well

Create a personalized reading list for your writing projects

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Interesting examples. I particular like that one about nausea sloshing in her throat – it’s original but sounds spot on, matching the real feeling, and has a horrible physicality to it.

    I’ve just started making notes using my Kindle, trying to read more actively like this. I’m finding the Kindle notes a bit slow and clumsy to use, which is frustrating. Has it got any better as you’ve gone along, or do I need to find an alternative before it drives me nuts?

    March 20, 2014
    • Hi Andrew, I’ve found I primarily use my iPad with the Kindle app. The Kindle is great for when I want to carry something really small, but I mostly use the iPad. It’s quicker and I can check my e-mail on it and do a few other things. I see there’s an iPad mini now, so I might eventually get one of those to have something a bit smaller to carry. Feel free to post any examples you come across in your reading 🙂
      P.S. I like the way you said, “read more actively.” That is a great way to describe what we’re doing!

      March 20, 2014

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