If you’re like me, if you like to write, you like to read. Reading can be a passive, fun activity. It can also be used as a learning tool for writers to develop their craft and improve their writing. Like students learn from textbooks, writers can use novels as study aids and guides to help them learn by example and see what others have done before.
Why do we like the books we do? How do they hook us? What tools and techniques does an author use to drive the story forward and keep us interested? How does an author introduce new plot points and develop compelling story arcs?
Let’s talk about it!
Pick a Familiar Book
Most of us have a book that we really enjoyed. One that we read through at breakneck speed, mesmerized by the story, the characters, and the twists and turns.
Choose a book that you’ve read before that really hooked you. Grab a red pencil, pen, and paper and reread the book. This time, however, you’re not reading to be entertained; you’re reading to learn.
Analyze This, Analyze That
What point of view does the author use? Do they use different ones for different characters (the main character is in first-person, and other characters are in third-person)?
As you read, mark in the book with the red pencil how the author effectively uses description to introduce a character or location. Are they verbose in how they describe, or is it simple?
How does the author draw the reader into the story from the start? What techniques do you think they utilize?
When does the story change direction? How does the main character receive new information that causes them to switch tactics? Do they receive this information passively or actively?
How does the author introduce conflict? Is there an overarching conflict throughout the novel, or do things get resolved and new conflicts arise? How does that affect your enjoyment of the story?
How does the author show us the main character’s evolution from start to finish? Are they open with other characters, or is the reader privy to things other characters in the book aren’t?
What are the main themes of the story? How are they presented by the author? Are they spelled out to the reader or more subtle?
Break It Down
Now that you’ve taken the time to deconstruct the story and its elements write down a bare-bones version. Break it down into the main plot points, the main character’s arc, and how these elements keep the narrative compelling and moving forward.
Write these points out as statements, but also quote the lines of dialogue or description that showcase these moments.
How can you use this information to make your story and writing stronger?
Repeat the Process
Reread the book, keep an open mind and see if your initial views change. Did you get something deeper from the second analysis than the first one?
Analyzing a favorite author’s work is a great way to dig deeper into another person’s creative mind. You can see how a story works by breaking it down and see how the author uses character and plot elements to drive the narrative forward. Multiple readings may deliver new and deeper information that can help you as a writer in the long run.