I’m excited to share a new video with you today!
Many famous writers have stressed the importance of reading to become a better writer. Stephen King once observed, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
But how can you get the most out of the books you read?
In this video, I look at a strategy called “close reading”. Close reading is a form of literary analysis that helps you get more out of the books you read. With close reading, you dive into a passage of a well-written novel or a poem and identify the techniques and themes that make the writing so powerful.
This active reading strategy will help you take your own writing to the next level as you discover powerful writing techniques that you can use to make your own writing more memorable and meaningful to your readers.
1. Read the Entire Piece
The first step is to make sure that you read the entire book or poem that you’re going to be close reading.
If you don’t know the entire plot of the book, it’s going to be harder to identify certain techniques that the author is using. For example, if there’s a character that dies later on in the story, and the author is using foreshadowing at the beginning of the book to hint at that death, you wouldn’t pick up that technique because you don’t know that character is going to die.
Usually when I do a close reading, it’s after I have already read the entire book, depending on how deep of a close reading I’m doing.
2. Understand the Context
The second step is to understand the context of the piece of literature that you’re examining. Just as you want to understand the entire plot of the piece, it’s also really important to understand the context of the author. Who were they? Why were they writing this piece? Did they ever discuss their philosophy or inspiration? What was going on in history at the time the piece was written? How did that influence the author?
3. Summarize the Obvious
The third step is to summarize the paragraph or the passage that you’re going to be close reading. Poems are often short so you might close read an entire poem. But usually if you’re close reading a book, you would just pick out a passage that really strikes you and that you want to examine on a deeper level. At this stage, look for the most obvious things and jot them down. Maybe a character states that they are jealous of someone. Maybe the author is describing a character’s loneliness. This gives you clues for the themes of the piece which leads to step number four.
4. Pinpoint the Central Ideas and Themes
The fourth step is to identify the central ideas and themes in the passage. I’ve found this is very helpful when I am writing my own fiction, and I want to see how an author wove a certain theme into a piece. After you identify the obvious themes, you can examine how the author conveys them in the passage. How does he or she convey a sense of isolation or anger or fear? This leads into steps number five and six which examine the point of view and language and syntax of the piece.
5. Identify the Point of View
The fifth step is to analyze the point of view of the passage. Who is the narrator? Is it written in first person, second person, third person? Is it an omniscient narrator? Some books have an unreliable narrator, and that’s really interesting to examine. You can consider, “Is the author here putting forth their own opinion or is it an opinion of the characters?”
6. Dive Deep into the Language and Syntax
The sixth step is to look at the language and syntax. If you’re examining a poem, you would look at the rhyme scheme and the rhythm and how that affects the feel of the piece. You can also do that when you’re looking at a book. Does the author use long sentences or short sentences? Why? How do they vary their tempo? What synonyms and metaphors do they use? How does that contribute to the theme of the piece and the big ideas of the piece? Is there a secondary theme that wasn’t obvious at first but now becomes more apparent?
This last step is my favorite because it allows you to discover techniques that you can use to make your own writing more powerful.
When I am reading a book, I might come across a passage that strikes me. This has probably happened to you too where you say, “Wow, this is a beautifully written passage!” Now you can use close reading to break down what makes that passage so powerful.
Is the author varying their sentences? What similes do they use? What metaphors? Or maybe other types of figurative language? Look for techniques that you can use for your own writing.
Want to see close reading in action?
Check out the YouTube video where I examine the first verse from the first stanza of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven (and discover a writing technique that will take your writing to the next level).
I hope you enjoy the video! It would be awesome if you could give it a thumbs up and leave a comment. How will you use close reading?
Also make sure to subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. I really appreciate your support and hope the video inspires you with your writing. Thanks for watching!
**RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS VIDEO**:
📚 Christopher Lee (The Raven): https://youtu.be/BefliMlEzZ8
📚 How to Vividly Describe Emotions (Video): https://youtu.be/-UG8StLBiek
📚 My email newsletter, The Inkwell: https://nicolebianchi.com/newsletter/
📚 Bonus Resource: Article from Harvard College on Close Reading: https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/how-do-close-reading