John O’Hara said it this way: “Becoming the reader is the essence of becoming a writer.” It’s no secret that reading a lot can help you become a better writer. When we read great books we are exposed to what is possible with words. Moreover, learning to read like a writer is an important part of improving our craft.

But writing that is read as fluff is seldom remembered. You must dig deep into books to find the nuts and bolts, and you must fiddle with them until you understand the invisible mechanisms that pull readers along.

Some writers can’t not read like a writer. It’s similar to a film editor who can’t relax and watch a movie without analyzing every single cut and transition. If you’re not sure how to read like a writer, here are a few key elements to help you along:

Character – Do you find the characters compelling? Are you rooting for them or looking forward to their downfall? A well-developed character feels like he or she is sitting next to you while you’re reading.

Pay attention to the subtle techniques the author uses to flesh them out. They’re not always obvious, but they’re there in the dialogue and the showing  and telling of their personality ticks.

Plot – If you look hard enough, you can identify the elements that make up the plot structure of a compelling piece: conflict, plot points, rising action, conclusion, etc. Ask yourself: What about this plot appeals to me, and how specifically can your writing convey this same thing?

Style – Every writer hopes to develop an identifiable style like the literary greats. The trick is to notcopy their style, but rather consider what makes their style so unique.

Consider the origins of each writer’s style, then think of how you can infuse your writing with your own personality and experiences.

Use your occupation or interests to your advantage.

Insight – Want to write deeper, more gripping, more compelling descriptions of character, setting, and action? Your ability to make unique connections, draw unexpected conclusions, and offer something truly different is key.

When you know your subject—and when you’re fascinated by it—you can pass your insight, perspective, and, of course, fascination on to the reader.

So, take a good hard look at how your favorite authors tackle their subjects. Can you feel their passion for their subject matter? Do they offer dazzling new insights? If so, how? Let the books you read challenge you to see the world in new ways.