I think as a writer, you have a naturally curious mind about all things, but in particular people. And when I say people, it is all people, both the real ones, and the fictitious ones we meet within the pages of a book or on the screen.
Before I became a writer, I would read the book on only one level. Aware of the story and the flow, and the characters and their adventure.
When I first began writing, I found myself paying greater attention to word choice and style. Later, it was some of the technical aspects of sentence structure that captured my attention. I explored what I liked, or what I felt worked particularly well, and then I would ask myself why this was so. I would often pause reading so I could consider a phrase rather than simply enjoying it and skipping straight past as a reader might.
Then I found yet another level in the character development, and the way that their journey plays out. I have always loved character arcs, and have always enjoyed the change a good arc brings in a holistic sense. Recently though, I have found myself studying the nuances of the character in a much greater detail. The common word choice certain characters have, or perhaps the way they rub their brow when they hear interesting news. A character who plays their cards close to their chest is most interesting when they finally reveal a personal detail— and a sharer is most interesting when they choose not the share. These micro-levels of the arc are just as important. I review each aspect of their personality under a microscope, testing it, seeing what I like about it, or even what I don’t. I try to unravel all the reasons behind their actions, and again, find myself testing the arc—does each piece fit in with the greater whole? What works? Why does it work? And how can I use this knowledge myself.
Not all writers are equal, and not all draw us into the story as deeply. There are times, when despite my best efforts to read a book on every level, I lose myself and I am simply a reader. These are the best books, and the ones I return to so I can study them again with a writers eye.
There are, of course, many more layers to a story and to writing, some that I am aware of, and others that I am not. Our ignorance reveals itself during those times when you just feel joy in reading a book, yet the formula or ingredient that makes it so enjoyable eludes you. These moments have a magical quality, and you know there is some hidden aspect of the craft at work. You wish desperately to know what it is.
This ever evolving lens through which we view writing is what makes it so interesting, and I hope that I never stop learning.