Posted: November 27, 2012 in Discussions, On Books, On Writing
Tags: , , ,

An invaluable way to hone and enrich your craft is to deconstruct others’ writing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say you should pick apart someone’s writing and belittle them into never writing again. What I’m talking about here is the process of breaking a story (or novel even) down into sections so that they’re easier analyzed. Look at how the author develops the characters, how they introduce the main setting on which the story will take place, how events leading up to the climax build suspense and urge the reader on, how the climax is constructed, how the story is resolved, etc.

So much can be learned by discovering the inner mechanics of another writers’ story. Think of the story as an engine. You’re a curious mechanic, wondering how someone could create a more efficient engine than you know how to do. Deconstructing a story is just like taking apart that more efficient engine to see just how it works, how all the pieces fit together just right, how they all work together to make something that purrs beautifully.

When looked at as a whole, a story seems to take on a life of its own. By breaking it down into more manageable pieces, you’re able to more easily see the little parts and pieces that move the story (and the reader for that matter).

Also, deconstructing your own stories can prove invaluable as well. You’ll be able to more easily see where your story went wrong (if it did), where you got off topic, where there are holes in the story, and areas that may need description or a little something else. Break the story down into scenes and ask yourself if you were to rearrange these scenes, would it still make sense? If your answer is yes, you’ve got a lot of work to do. Your scenes should follow a basic logical sequence of events. If, in the opening scene, your protagonist is already going after the villain, you’re not going to be able to hold the reader’s interest through the end. Make sure that your story flows well between scenes and that they are logically placed within the story.

Character development within a story holds so much importance, I feel it deserves a paragraph of its own. The author must know how to ease the reader into the character’s lives, and rather than just telling the reader about the character, the author must show the favorable characteristics through the character’s actions and words to bring the reader closer to the character. The characters have to feel real to the reader, otherwise you won’t hold their interest. They have to be able to identify with these characters on some level. The way these characters interact with others should be realistic as well.

Here’s an example of unrealistic interactions:

George came into the house, nearly spitting fire. “I thought I told you to have this goddamn place clean when I got here!” He growled at his wife on his way to the kitchen. “It’s a pig sty in here.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Luanne said lovingly, kissing her husband’s cheek. “I love you.”

Now, after being berated by her obviously angry husband, it would make no sense that Luanne would react so sweetly to his anger. There has to be logic behind her ignoring his comments. Instead, try something like this:

George came into the house, nearly spitting fire. “I thought I told you to have this goddamn place clean when I got here!” He growled at his wife on his way into the kitchen.

She bit her tongue, knowing speaking now would only anger him more.

“It’s a pig sty in here,” he said.

“Oh sweetie,” Luanne said lovingly, thinking of how she would exact her revenge when the moment was right. She leaned forward, hating even the smell of him, but keeping this from her face as she placed her lips on his sweaty, prickly cheek. “I love you,” she said, thinking, I hate you.

Luanne biting her tongue, thinking of revenge,  hating the smell of her husband, and that last little: I hate you, adds the logic missing from the first passage. We know from these things that Luanne doesn’t love George, and that she’s only putting up with his ill-treatment long enough to exact revenge.

Everything, and yes, I mean EVERYTHING must follow a logic order and make sense to the reader. If your monster sprouts wings and flies away suddenly, explain how a radioactive chemical spill allowed the creature to grow the wings, or monologue a character’s thoughts on their previous inability to see said wings due to darkness. If you’re going to surprise the reader, don’t do it at the climax. Doing so will lose your readers faith in your ability to suspend disbelief, and the entire story will come crashing down around them. If your monster is different from the norm, let the readers see it (or part of it) before the tension builds to the no turning back point.

There are numerous ways a writer can learn from deconstructing both their own writing, and others’ as well. It may seem a little pointless at first, but once you do this a few times, you’ll be easier able to see the scenes individually, without actually breaking down the story, and will thus be better equipped to write your own.

Comments are, as always, welcome. =]

  1. Really good advice. One of the best ways to learn is to see how others have done it. That’s what I do that when I find a book I really love. I try to see what the writer did and how s/he managed to pull if off. As usual, great post.

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