As a writer of speculative fiction and science fiction writings, I have also dedicated myself to helping writers and readers write better and read more effectively. This is Lorenzo Samuel's Advice Blog, which I'm sharing with you.
How should you read a book? Chances are that you have never been taught that, and it is a shame for in life many read a lot of books, fiction and non-fiction. Somehow, teachers of children assume that their small students will simply mature into it like Topsy, who Just growed.
Unfortunately perhaps, reading is not as easy as looking at a still or moving picture, which is after all common to all of us since birth. Unless you and I were taught to read, we'd end up illiterate. Now, we could also end up not seeing what is in a video or moving picture or even in front of us in real life. So, reading well and seeing well are not disrelated.
Reading a paragraph and understanding a paragraph are not the same. On the fringe of reading is the subject of speed reading, where one scans quickly a page of writing to pick up the main ideas. President John Kennedy was a speed reader. The first thing he would do in the presidential day was to speed read through six or seven major newspapers to pick up what was happening in the world. In no way could we say that he understood what was happening.
Let's start by running through a few reading tips:
1. First, set your purpose: learn something, be entertained, learn something while being entertained (for many, the last one is best).
2. Realize that you, like everyone else, does not already know it all. In other words, accept the fact that there is something to learn.
3. Understand that the author of what you are reading is using words and phrases to communicate ideas to you the reader. She or he has chosen these words to express these ideas. Therefore, in order to understand these ideas (fully receive the ideas), you should try to understand the words and phrases the author uses. This goes for entertainment as well. Have you ever not got a joke because you didn't understand a word or usage in what the comedian said?
Let's stop at this point. I have more tips to share, but these will be a good start.
Both my son and I are pretty good readers. I remember reading out loud to him when he was 10 years old. I read "The Hobbit" to him, a bit each evening. Both of us would get visual images as I read. That was the best entertainment - images generated by our own minds. Because of the way the images came to us through our own creation they stayed with us as a part of us.
Do you see that we were applying tip 1? We were learning while being entertained. Also, we understood well enough to contribute to the story by making our own images.
If you thought these tips were just for readers, well, I fooled you! Take tip 1 for instance. Writers should try to entertain while imparting something new to their readers. That is, make what you write memorable.
A good place to establish tip 2 for your readers is somewhere in the opening, for example, in the introduction, preface, or prologue. Show your readers that they will learn something in an entertaining way. Most authors do this as a matter of course through characters, theme, plot, and setting.
Many authors do this through interesting places or times. They can do it with their characters by making them like others, but still unusual.
For tip 3 an author should write for understanding, not use arcane or obtuse words that most readers will not understand without a dictionary. Here is an excerpt from my story "Blue Glow" to illustrate these points:
"The middle of a retired-living-community recreation room might seem an odd place for two old women to debate who was winning their duel. Actually, "debate" might be the wrong word for what was transpiring. Mutual accusations might fit better. Most though, especially their families, would see two fools arguing demented nonsense, not the technicalities of robot development.
Many in the Blue Glen Retirement Village knew that these two had something to do with the robot menservants. The huge retirement complex had several hundred robots operational, carrying out tasks ranging from gardening and housekeeping to personal service. The two oldsters maintained and repaired these robots for the comfort and safety of the old semi-helpless residents. Only the maintainers' husbands suspected that something else went on - added evidence of their wives' senility.
One "something else" was in the room: a class 5 robot named Zoro. He was built to serve those using the rec room, in this case to wait on the two sitting on the couch. But, something had gone wrong with his circuits. As he wove his way among the electronic billiard tables, he turned berserk. Arms flailing in the simulated sunlight, he staggered into a table and yanked out its wiring. Sparks flew up and sprayed the ceiling; they cascaded over the two disputants in their old-woman shorts and fanny packs of emergency medical supplies."
Take a look. Aren't tips 1-3 in there?