Reading like a writer

Memoirs of a Geisha. Lately, I’ve found myself analyzing books differently. I’ll still think about the themes and messages the author is trying to convey, but i also spend a lot of time studying the plot, pacing, and characterization. For instance, I recently read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha for the book club I run at the library. (Spoiler alert: I’ll try to keep my synopsis vague, but if you haven’t read the book, this may ruin some surprises.)

First, I found myself breaking the story into “acts.” The first act begins when the main character is noticed by a local entrepreneur and sold to be trained as a geisha, and ends when she tries to run away, thus suspending her training because her “mother” does not want to waste any more money on a flight risk. The second act opens with her getting noticed by the Chairman and deciding that she wants to be a geisha, and includes her training with a rival of her house as her “older sister.” Finally, the third act follows her life as a successful geisha and her struggles to become the Chariman’s mistress.

After looking at each of these acts, I broke down the major plot points of each one, examining how each smaller climax builds towards the final turning point when the protagonist cuts ties with a close friend in order to save her relationship with the Chairman. Then I looked at the various character arcs, the ways in which Golden makes characters’ motivations clear and believable, and the ways that he crafts their relationships with one another. The pressures and strains on the protagonist’s relationship with Pumpkin, and the consequences of their competition, is similar to the relationship between two of the characters in my own work in progress. So, even though my young adult fantasy novel bears little surface resemblance to Golden’s historical fiction, I feel I can still learn something from his writing.

Have you read any books from a writer’s perspective lately? What insights have you had?

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