Sunday, July 31, 2011

Analyze This!

Have you ever read a novel for pleasure and then gone back to analyze exactly why the darned thing worked or didn’t?  I found it a good learning tool.

Here’s one I did a few years ago just for my own use. It’s a bit long for a blog post, so you may skim this just to get ideas. There are spoilers.

Analysis of A STAB IN THE DARK, by Lawrence Block
Main character
The main character is identified on page 1, halfway down the page.

He is an ex-cop with a mix of personal characteristics.  He is an alcoholic in denial (“I can quit any time I want to.”)  Whenever he comes into some money, he tithes, giving 10% to a church poor box, even though he is not religious.  He is not above stepping outside the law, but may feel bad about it later.  Alcohol affects his judgment.  For the most part he is honest, but he beats up and robs someone he thinks is a potential mugger.  He is not licensed as a p.i., because he doesn’t want to deal with all that paperwork.  He gets this case through the recommendation of a cop.

His strongest asset is that he is very, very persistent.  That is his reputation, and it is stated at the end of the first chapter.  He won’t even quit when his employer tells him to.  He keeps churning things up.  Stirring up trouble.  He has close ties with the NYC police.  He pays off a cop for info; there is never anything said about it.  The cop gives info as a favor, Scudder gives the cop money as a favor.  Five twenties.  Nine-year old murder case that his employer wants him to re-open.  It looks like an impossible case, with all leads gone cold.  The murder was similar to those committed by someone who is now in jail.
He also has a good memory.

Lots of detail, many clues and plot twists, lots of possible suspects.  The killer is someone I least expected, a former cop who killed someone as “practice” for killing his wife, but who then stopped when he was revolted by what he’d done.  Scudder figures it out by inconsistencies in the guy’s statements.  Also some misdirection complicates the story.

Scudder’s philosophy sprinkled throughout the book:  “A favor’s no good unless you pay for it.  One way or another, you always do.”

“When money comes with no strings on it, take it and put it in your pocket.  I was still enough of a cop at heart to remember that much.”

Point of view
POV is first person.

Lots of summary dialogue.  Less straight dialogue than Ed McBain.  Doesn’t shy away from “I” at all.  Plenty of paragraphs, sentences begin with it.

“He asked me if I was sure I didn’t want one for myself.  No thanks, I said.”

Stage setting
“He took a little sip of beer.  Over the top of the can he said, ...”

Near the end, a few specific memories of what people said, using parens, quotes, and italics:
(I never see him...I never see my former husband...I don’t see my husband and I don’t see the check.  Do you see?  Do you?”)

Lots of specific character descriptions.

There is a significant amount of narrative without dialogue.  Just a few telling quotes  Example: A Slavic woman says, “Only nice people get killed.”

Transitions and passage of time

“The next day was Friday.”

“It was a nice day out and I thought I’d kill a little time...As it turned out I walked all the way...
Plot points

p. 1  He is approached by the person who hires him.

p. 159 Confronts Burt Haverford and says “I know you killed her.”  This is 20 pages from the end of the story.


Morgan Mandel said...

Since becoming a writer, I've become more conscious of what writers are doing, but I've never gone into as much detail as you. Seems like a very helpful method.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

It is a good practice, Bob, if one has the time.

Bob Sanchez said...

If you have the time, yes. I did this some years ago and certainly wouldn't do it often...yet it's well worth the investment of time to do it at least once.