When I read, I highlight certain passages, phrases, and words. Why as readers do we identify with certain things like this?
Take our individual choices in the music libraries or book libraries that we maintain. Do we only listen to one type of music or read one type of literature? How do we establish our beliefs, or more importantly as authors, the beliefs of the characters we create?
I admire those who are able to discover their niche in the world; that position where a narrowed focus produces a comfortable place at a particular point in time. As an author, I've often been told, “Narrow your focus. You will find your niche.” Yet when I narrow my focus, my creative output goes to almost zero. Writing within one genre feels as confining as reading in only one.
When I read, I do not stick to one genre. Instead, I read in many genres and always search for unique sentences and sometimes a unique word that teaches me something I did not know. These unique sentences and sometimes a unique word I refer to as literary data points.
Finding these literary data points, these unique identifiers, help me to grow as a person and as a writer. As a person, they may give meaning to parts of my life that I could not explain as well as the author defines them. As a writer they give me ideas about creating new characters and how the characters might choose to think differently than I do.
When I read a book, I sometimes try to read from the viewpoint of a character of mine, searching for literary data points that stand out to my character that may not have stood out to me personally. New characters with differing points of view also tend to gravitate towards different data points. A war-mongering character may not like the advice of laying down arms to lift up society. Then again, by the end of a long war where the character has lost everything, the character might. Had that literary data point not stood out to me as an author, I might have struggled as much as the character in trying to figure out how to resolve the dilemma the character faced.
In the end I don’t know why we identify with certain things and not others. It is as likely to be genetic as it is to be rooted in social experience. But, I do think recognizing our own data points as we read is an important step in answering the question of why we make the choices we do. Recognizing data points that apply to our characters is a wonderful resource for developing a character who may believe very differently than we, as authors, do.