Analyze Books to Write Well
Read, read, and read some more. All would-be authors are told that, but what do you read, and how?
Choosing Books to Study
- First, define the type of writing you want to do (mysteries, literary, picture books, YA novels, etc.). If you have more than one genre to work in, choose the most compelling one for now and repeat the entire process for other genres later.
- Second, read
100 books in your chosen field. Yes, you read that right. That’s what it takes to give you a basic overview of your genre, and 200 would be better. Make a list to keep track of what you’ve read and your thoughts about them.
- Third, choose a dozen of the best books of that hundred – ones that are both well-written and that you love.
- Fourth, buy inexpensive copies of these dozen books. You’re going to be marking them up thoroughly, and librarians tend to frown on that.
Analyzing Your Books
Reading a book to see the author at work requires far more than just reading it for pleasure. When you examine a book closely, looking for specific techniques, you’ll be surprised at what you find, even in a “light book.”
Create a list of specific techniques used by good writers. Review notes from writers conferences, writing classes, and how-to-write books to complete your list.
Now, re-read each of your dozen books, searching for these techniques. It make take several read-throughs to analyze it well. Use highlighters, colored pencils, or even crayons to mark each book.
Your own strengths and weaknesses in writing will personalize your list, but here are some ideas to start you off:
- Instances where the author does a good job of showing an emotion instead of telling.
- Dialogue that not only sounds real, but reveals attitude or character traits as well.
- Action interspersed with dialogue, reducing the need for “he said.”
- Good opening lines or paragraphs that pull you into the story. Why do they work?
- Active verbs, strong nouns.
- Metaphors and similes that work smoothly. Why do they work instead of distracting from the story?
- Highlight each of the five senses in a different color. How balanced is it?
Summaries help analyze complex techniques
Write paragraphs (or pages) to describe how authors achieved more complicated goals, such as intricate plotting, character arc, etc. You will gain a clearer understanding by putting your thoughts into words on paper.
- Type a plot outline of the book. How do subplots weave in and out? When does the climax occur? How much happens after the climax?
- How is character growth is shown by action – list examples.
- For mysteries, show where clues are given throughout the plot development. Where are red herrings inserted? How are clues and red herrings put in without showing too much?
- For picture books, re-type the books you are analyzing. Read and study them without the illustrations to add to the story.
- When you find a section that isn’t done well (too many dialogue tags, for instance), try re-writing it to fix the problem.
How-to-write books and writers conferences can teach you a lot, but you have to be able to take what you learned and apply it. Finding these techniques in your favorite books can give you solid examples of how to use them in your own writing.