Each sentence is a piece of wood.
Some are studs. They hold the walls up.
Some are ceiling joists and rafters. They keep the roof over your head.
Some are sole plates, sill plates, and top plates. They connect the floor to the wall to the roof.
Without these, you don’t have a house.
There are other pieces of wood that you don’t really need. They are nice to have, but you could go build a house in Mexico without them.
These pieces are siding and drywall and trim. They add comfort and style, but you would still have a house without them (kind of).
Here’s the thing: any contractor can look at a pile of lumber and see sole plates and trim and siding and joists. Any contractor could look at a pile of wood and see a house.
A really good contractor, though, could look at a forest full of trees and see a house.
Learning to Read
Each sentence is a piece of wood. Any writer can read a book and see the pieces of wood. This sentence is a stud. That one’s a sole plate. The one I’m bouncing on is a joist.
Any writer can read a book and know what each sentence’s purpose is. This sentence is meant to introduce a character. That sentence adds mystery. The one that I’m bouncing on is straight plot.
Here’s what James Smart says:
As soon as I began thinking about being a writer, it was the end of reading as I once knew it. Reading now, I look at Vonnegut in the same way a carpenter looks at trees. Reading Palahniuk is like conducting an autopsy. Hemingway is like learning a new language.
I say any writer can do this. If you can’t read Hemingway and know what he’s doing with each sentence, you need to learn to read. If you can’t read Twilight and know what each sentence is doing, you need to get Hooked on Phonics.
A really good writer, though, can look at the raw material of life, the forest full of trees, and see a book. A really good writer can read everything around them.
But first you have to learn how to read books.
Go find one of your favorite books. If you don’t have access to a good book right now, try one of these:
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Now, pick out five sentences at random. Type them out (or copy and paste them), and then describe what each sentence is doing in a sentence or two. Post your exercise in the comments for the rest of us.
This is how you learn to read. If you don’t know how to read, you don’t know how to write.