Why every writer should join a book club
Updated: Jan 29, 2018
I did it. I joined a book club.
Actually, "Got wrangled into it because I couldn't say no" is a more accurate way to put it, but nonetheless, I'm in the club. They had deemed themselves the "Beneath the Covers" book club and I can't wait for it.
Despite my lifelong love of books, I've never been an active part of a book club before. I've always wanted to join one, but kept coming up with my typical excuses, "I don't have time. I have too much homework to do. I'm too tired after work," et cetera. It didn't help that it seemed like it was full of retired women who had that kind of time on their hands. This prompted the excuse, "I'll do it when I'm older and retired."
But you know what? Life is short. Join the damn book club. What's the worst that could happen? You spend a few hours once a month discussing the one thing you love most in this world, and that's enjoying a good story?
No more excuses, Becca.
I've also come to believe in signs. Not for religious reasons, per se, but probably more from Under the Tuscan Sun. For example, I'm suspicious of stoplights. If the first and every stop light I meet when I start the day, I call them Red Light Days. I take them as omens of a day full of obstacles, and they annoy me. Green Light Days, on the other hand, are days where I will get things done. I'm probably just jinxing myself with that thought process, but regardless, I do.
Anyway, an opportunity arose for me to lead the very first meeting, and guess what day it falls on? February 22. My birthday.
What better birthday present could I give myself than join and lead a book club meeting?
So I joined, even though I have school work and house work and work work. I assigned I Have Iraq in my Shoe by Gretchen Berg, one of the funniest books I ever read, and probably the least serious book those sweet ladies have read and discussed.
However, reading over the list of book club questions given to me to review, I can see how participating in a book club can serve as good work experience for my future author career. They're actually good questions every author should ask themselves when writing. I'll sum up some the ones I find the most important:
1) Describe the main character
Some of the questions were: What were their personality traits, motivations, inner qualities? Why did the character do what they did? How do they interact with other characters? Are their actions justified? And my favorite, Does the main character(s) change by the end of the book?
As an author, can you answer these questions about your own character? What do you want readers to take away from them? Does your character, in fact, learn anything? If you answered, "I don't know" to any of the questions above, you may want to consider developing your character more.
2) Is the plot engaging?
I liked these questions: Is this a page turner? Or does the story unfold slowly? Did the book surprise you? Or was it predictable?
This can be hard to tell for some authors. What may be engaging to you may not be for other people. Plus, you've already read it so many times...you can't even tell if it's engaging anymore or not.
A good way to test that is to join a writers critique group, or even offer a draft out to beta readers that make up your target audience. Ask for brutal honesty: does the story engage you? If they all say, "No, it does not," it's time to rewrite.
3) Talk about the book's structure
These were more general questions, like: Does the time line move forward chronologically, or back and forth between past and present? But the question I saw the most value in was, Why might the author have chosen to structure the story the way that they did? What difference did it make in the way you read and understand it?
So...why did you structure the book with flashbacks? Or will the plot run smoother in chronological order? If you have a good story, but the plot line seems clunky, consider trying a different structure.
4) What is the overall theme?
These are questions that really dig into the meaning of the book: What are the main ideas, or themes, that the author explores? Do symbols reinforce main ideas?
I'm not going to lie: I don't love writing according to themes. And I hate coming up with symbols. But when it comes to writing books, every word has to count. I used to groan at having to constantly come up with meaningful themes and symbols, and resort to writing fluff. But then I'd wonder why everyone thought my stories were boring.
Fluff is meaningless. Themes and symbols have meaning. Give your readers a reason to keep reading.
5) My favorite question
To me, the most important question as an author on this list is this: If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask?
What kinds of questions do you want to be asked about your book? Are you prepared to answer your reader's questions?
Readers are insightful, and their input is invaluable. They may even make you look at a scene you wrote with a completely different perspective, based on a question they ask you. They could reveal a part in the story that made no sense.
As I begin reading the works of other authors and asking these questions about their stories, I'm going to be repeating them to myself as I write. If you were to sit in on a book club discussing your own story, would you know how to answer their questions?