Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dissecting the Novel

I often tell writers that it is important to take the time to dissect what the other authors are doing in their stories and then duplicate that in their own stories. This is one of the most helpful tools for the improvement of writing but it takes a critical thinker to do that.

When I say to dissect the writing, I am not asking you to go back and find out how many chapters the author uses, or whether or not they set the story in certain locations. I am really asking you to examine the structural elements of their writing.

Each author has a unique voice and it is up to you to determine what elements of their writing (the sentence structure, use of secondary characters, dialogue and so forth). To do this takes a lot of time and reading the stories, not so much for the enjoyment, but really with a diagnostic mindset.

The process is simple. Take an author that has seen some success. I should note that I would not pick an author that likely sells books simply because of their name. I always recommend going with the new authors that just came out. Once you have picked that author, take a look at the first three chapter. Read it slow and really look for patterns.

Once you think you have found some of those patterns, jump to later sections of the book and see if you are right. If so, jump to another book and start charting those patterns. The odds are, if you really found it in the first book, the patterns will show up in later books.

You can do this same thing with publishers. It becomes a fairly easy process to start noticing patterns in the voice of the publisher by watching trends. I know, for example, that some publishers really go for a more "literary fiction" voice. Others like to go for the quirky voice that comes across in all of their genres. Others like VERY fast paced stories.

When I have submissions come across my desk, I read it to not just look at the quality of the writing but if there really is a place that the story fits. You too can do the same thing.

So, your homework is simple. Start tracking patterns. Then see how your writing shapes up.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks! This is a great post. I have done this with books. It does take time but it's like a light blub moment once you 'get it'.

    I never thought about it for publishers, but have been concerned about if I have the right voice/tone for a certain lines.