Book Dissection: The Smart Writer’s Way (and free book)
Posted by Bob Mayer
Someone has already done it; let them help you.
You’ve got your original idea and you’ve done your research. Now, before you begin to write your book, you should find a novel similar to what you plan to write that is already published. I guarantee you there is something out there that is similar. Then you should sit down with your razor sharp brain and cut it apart to see all the pieces. Then put them together again to see how they all fit.
You have to ask yourself a number of questions:
- What was the original idea the author started with? How close is it to mine?
- How did the author translate that idea into a story? What twist did the author put on the original idea? What’s my twist? How am I different from this author’s work?
- What is the theme/intent to this story?
- Why did the author begin where he or she did?
- Why did the author chose the perspective he or she did?
- What scope did he or she place on the story?
- What is the pacing of the story?
- How did the author bring the story to a conclusion?
- What did the author do that you liked?
- What did the author do that you didn’t like?
- What didn’t the author put in the book that you might have? Why didn’t the author put that in?
- What was in the book that you feel could have been left out? How would the story change if it were left out?
- What were the subplots? How did they connect with the main plot? Did all the subplots get resolved?
- Why did the author pick the settings he or she did?
These are questions you are going to face in your own manuscript. If you can understand how someone who successfully wrote the same type of book answered them, you greatly improve your ability to answer them.
Here’s another interesting exercise to do. Take a book that was made into a film and compare the two. For example, The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. If you read the book, then watch the movie, you will notice several subplots are missing from the movie version that are in the book. How did the screenwriter do this yet maintain the original idea and story of the book? Did these subplots add or take away from the book?
I was talking to producer Dan Curtis (Winds of War) and he told me how he works on taking a novel and turning it into a screenplay. First he breaks the novel down into a list of one or two sentences summaries of every major scene or action. Then he writes the screenplay off that list. Then he breaks the screenplay down into a list of one or two sentence summaries and sees how that compares to the one he did for the novel.
Use narrative structure to lay out the structure of the novels you read. What is the hook? What are the progressive complications? What is the choice the protagonist has to make? How is it made? How is the main plot resolved? How do the subplots support the main plot?
It is essential that you be well read in the area in which you wish to write. The more you read, the more you will get imprinted in your conscious and subconscious brain the style and manner in which those types of stories are written, which will aid you greatly in writing your own.
You should also read more first novels, rather than the latest by a best-selling author. Since you are trying to get published, see what kind of novel it takes to get published at various publishing houses. Some best-selling authors can crank out anything– which would not get published if a no-name author did it– and have it become a best seller.
Another thing that book dissection can help you with is determining how “realistic” your book needs to be and in researching your topic. For example, in most mystery novels, police procedure lies somewhere between detective shows on TV and the way it is really done. You’ll find if you interview a homicide detective about how they cover a murder scene, that you will be overwhelmed with detail and the scene you write in your book would have to be many hours long and slow your action down. So see how such scenes are generally written in most novels that are published in your genre and proceed accordingly.
I have sat down with best-sellers and breakout novels and broken them down on a spreadsheet scene by scene to study the structure. Many authors I’ve talked to have done something similar in order to learn.
A question you should ask yourself after dissecting a book like what you want to write is this: How is my book going to be different? What is my unique twist? Every idea has been done– it is in the development of your story off that idea that you have to bring your originality.
102 Solutions to Common Writing is FREE for the next couple of days on Kindle.
Atlantis was free last week and now is in the top 10 overall in science fiction.
Monday I go to New York for Digital Book World and will be blogging about what I learn there. From there, it’s on to the San Diego State University Writers Conference. Nothing but good times ahead.