"Doesn't everyone learn as they read?"
I've been taking a lot of notes as I read for pleasure lately. I simply refuse to read anything that isn't well-written as I'm working on Moons of Blood. I realize more and more the profound impact of what I've read most recently upon what I write. The original idea for Moons of Blood was inspired in my third read-through of the Lighthouse Duet by Carol Berg. It's by-far my favorite story. The writing is crisp and elegant. The characters are complex and deep. The world is vivid and fantastical. The story itself is epic without coming off as overly dramatic.
The background of my story springs from my knowledge of today's economical, nutritional, corporate and sociological issues. The characters traits and thoughts come from myself and from people I've known. But the writing comes from my favorite authors. I couldn't have been able to lighten the tone and add some humor to my somewhat dark fantasy novel if it were not for Steven Brust and Terry Pratchett. Those authors (and my husband) have taught me that dark and serious is not the only way to write an intricate and fascinating novel.
If you are not, in fact, affected in this same way when you read, perhaps you're looking for an explanation of how I learn so much while I'm simply reading for enjoyment.
Rereading Parts With Impact
If I read a sentence in a book that strikes me emotionally, I'll reread the sentence several times to see if the structure of the sentence was important to the impact. If rereading the sentence doesn't uncover anything, I'll go back and reread the paragraph until I glean some understanding of why the impact was so strong and vivid.
Economy Of Words
One thing that I notice time and time again is how important an 'economy of words' is. Say it in as little words as possible. Take out needless descriptive words. And if the situation calls for it, replace them with words that are densely packed with descriptive information.
Karen Miller often leaves out words such as "but," "yet," "although," and "however," entirely. Her writing is incredibly densely packed with information. There is never a time where you can say, "oh, that word there wasn't needed." This is probably evident even in her raw style, but it's also probable that this has a lot to do with being skilled at paring down her own work to it's most elegant essentials.
I paid particular attention when reading Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust because it also used a minimalistic style to great advantage. Despite it being a solitary book that wasn't incredibly long, it managed to have a long stream of events as well as quite dynamic characters. It managed this by having many short scenes that were packed with information. I found that I actually had to read slower to let my mind fully imagine everything that was implied in each statement. Brokedown Palace is a masterpeice of implication.
When reading Jean Auel's Earth Children series I pay attention to how she manages to make such lengthy descriptions interesting. Jean Auel doesn't leave anything out. If Ayla takes a squat behind a tree, then she mentions it. If Ayla puts stones on to heat over the fire, she describes it. If the plains being traveled across have a ravine within few with very types of trees, shrubs, rocks and flowers, then she describes all of that and more.
I find Jean Auel's style of particular interest because long descriptions usually bore me. So every time I decide I feel like rereading The Earth Children series again, I pay close attention to how she manages to go on and on about landscape, daily activities and so forth and keep it interesting. One of the most obvious reasons it's so interesting is because it's so vastly different from our daily activities today while the characters are still people who are very easy to relate to.
When I'm reading something with an unusual set of vocabulary, I like to have a notebook nearby to jot down usual word usages, words I've never heard before, and words I don't remember to very often, or at all.
For example, on the notebook's open page beside me the following 'vocabulary words' are listed; "obstinate, pantaloons, pannier, scimitar, bleating, villa, enormous, gelding, besotted, flask and pinnacle."
The only word there I didn't know it's meaning to when I wrote it was 'scimitar' - a type of curved sword. The rest of those words are just words that I forget to use when writing. The level of vocabulary we understand is generally much greater than the level of vocabulary we actually use. Pantaloons and flask, for example, are two words I'm particularly fond of, but whenever I want to use them, I often can recall the shape of the object, but not the word. And hence, I wrote them down when I came across them in test.
It may feel like a silly high school English assignment, but I encourage other authors to try this. I find it very helpful.
A short teaser with no spoilers, but a tiny bit of what I think is interesting description... This bit is not edited or proof read and is subject to change;
“We’re almost there,” he said softly just before he opened a door into a short hall paved in dark black marble. Or at least I had thought it was marble until I felt my feet slightly sink into the cold surface which each step. Another question I’d never have answered...
And then, we were in the incubation chamber. The same strangely soft floor spilled from the hall into the room; I decided I liked the way it felt beneath my feet. I didn’t need to be told that we had arrived at our destination. Purple pods littered the shelves, and were lined up in neat rows upon metallic pedestals. I estimated about two hundred inhabited pods. One contained a full-sized adult. I didn’t ask about that either.