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Monday, January 22, 2007

Scalpel, Please: Part 1

Some books grab us and won’t let us go until we reach the end. When I was a kid, I’d sneak a flashlight under the covers and dive into a story until bleary-eyed, I closed the book.

Now as a writer, when I read a great book, I open it again. This time, I have a pen and paper in hand. I want to see what makes the book work so well. As I do this, I try to answer the following questions:

How did the writer craft their journey of words?
Why did they use the words they chose?
How can I mimic their efforts in my own voice?

Enter the scalpel. This is where I carve up the story, or dissect it if you will, and see what’s inside. I usually start with big picture elements.

How many chapters?
How many points of view (POV)?
What makes this story unique, in my opinion?
Is it the setting, the characters’ occupation—what at first glance sets it apart from every other book on the shelf?
How long did this story take to unfold, in story-time? Days? A week? Months? (Not counting prologue)

When I read a book the first time, I enjoy it like a reader should. I force myself to turn off my inner editor. Later, if the book leaves a ringing in my head once I reach "The End," it deserves a second look. I go back and dissect the story, layer by layer.

Next, into the nitty-gritty…


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