When Writers Read

During the Pandemic, I began a ZOOM book club of those interested primarily in reading thriller novels. Although I most often write mysteries and am working on book #6 in the Dana Greer Mystery Series, PI, I am interested in thrillers both as a reader and as a writer.

As a reader and member of a book club, now in person at a coffee shop, we meet monthly to discuss evil. How much fun is that, especially, when the culprit is fictional? The locations in the novels vary from someone who is a new boarder in an attic apartment to someone attending a weekend getaway at a resort. Subplots usually are of the romance genre, such as when the psychologist hooks up with a journalist. Sometimes the questions probed by the member leading the discussion are about topics the reader wants to know

  1. How would the book have played out differently in a different time period or setting?
  2. Which location in the book would you most like to visit and why?
  3. Were there any quotes (or passages) that stood out to you? Why?
  4. What did you like most about the book? What did you like the least?
  5. How did the book make you feel? What emotions did it evoke?
  6. Are there any books that you would compare this book to?
  7. Have you read any other books by this author? How would you compare them to this selection?
  8. What do you think the author’s goal was in writing this book? What ideas
  9. Did this book remind you of any other books that you’ve read? Describe the connection.
  10. Did your opinion of this book change as you read it? How?
  11. Would you recommend the book to a friend? How would you summarize the story if you were to recommend it?
  12. If you could talk to the author, what burning question would you want to ask?

Additionally, there are general questions asked, as well, of the readers. Who were your favorite characters and most disliked characters? What did you think about the development of the plot? And did you like the ending or not? The group ends up giving the book anywhere between one and five stars.

Being a writer, however, throws a new light on what I read. Good writers must be continual readers much as a student learns from its teacher. Here are some questions I ask as I read the book:

Did the thriller immediately open in the middle of the action, rather than after two-hundred pages? Some random examples are beginning with a fire, a car accident, or a person poisoning another’s drink. By opening page one to a scene of utter horror, tragic circumstances, or fearful anticipation, a reader cannot help but continue reading. The reader is hooked!

Did most of the chapters end with a cliff hanger? And sometimes do the cliff hangers not get resolved until a chapter or two later? A chapter that ends with an unanswered question, a circumstance that is beyond reach, or a sense that something is not as it seems, it grips the reader, causing him or her to turn the page. Rather than putting the book down to turn to social media or to call a friend, the reader carries on…sometimes even completing the book in one sitting!

Does the author show the reader characters, locations, and scenes? Or does the writer overuse adjectives or cliches to describe? As children when we were asked to write a paragraph on what we did over summer vacation, it might have looked like this:

My dad threw a big beach ball at me. We played in the hot sand. We ate yummy sandwiches. Before we left, we saw a large, grey seagull fly into the sky.

The highlighted words are mere adjectives. How much more engaging is it when a writer shows, rather than tells by means of sensory language (the use of one’s senses)?

When we arrived at Chamung Beach, dad and I pitched off our sandals, which smelled like tennis shoes left in the rain. The sand like tiny razors pinched at our bare toes. On the shore, my dad and I found a Clownfish that a seagull dropped as it cawed off into the purple nimbus clouds.

  • Characters need to speak like real people. Sometimes, they don’t complete sentences. Other times, they might speak in short phrases. And still other times, they might use jargon.

Daniel said, “Maybe we should−”
“Should do what?” Olivia said. “I hate when you don’t complete your thoughts.”
“…not go to the beach today.”
“Tomorrow, rain is in the forecast. Today or tomorrow? Decide.”
“Where’d you put our raincoats?”

  • In reading a novel as a writer, the author might run out of things to say. The middle of a novel is a common place to see this. To keep the reader interested throughout the book, everything must move the plot along. A new character might come on the scene. Another obstacle plagues the protagonist. Even dialogue itself can move the plot.
  • One of the reasons I enjoy thrillers is that the writer must continually create suspense by upping the tension. Some examples are: a character gets into a verbal confrontation with his boss, a character worries he might lose his job over a secret he has withheld, or a character faces a downed powerline on her way home.
  • Readers hate scenes that are contrived. Jesse just happens to meet Bill at a remote cottage. A minor character shows up and saves the day! Bills find a magic sword just in time to kill the giant.

In the end, the joy of reading lends itself to numerous advantages. Reading can be an escape…even a visit to a new or strange place. Characters meet the reader along the way and take them on the journey. Even fiction can teach valuable lessons, help to resolve one’s own issues, and raise questions that keep the reader wanting to read more. Book club readers only enhance novels with their varied perspectives, opinions, and outlooks.

As a mystery writer, I deconstruct a thriller, analyzing it for opening hooks, character development, sensory language, plot pacing, and suspense by means of twists that result in creating tension. I take from what I learn about these literary devices and find myself the forever student…always striving to become the best writer. 

50 Book Club Questions for Any Selection

Posted by Michelle Boudin