Sunday, December 4, 2011

Learning from the pros

Have you ever read a mystery and said to yourself, “Wow! I wish I could write like that”? Or maybe you mumble “Heck, I write this well. How come they’re published and I’m not”? That question is a toughie, of course. Most of us realize that there are lots of reasons novels don’t get published, and this post won’t get into them.

Let’s look at that mystery differently. First, finish reading it for pleasure. Then go back through it and take notes. Pick it apart. Why does it work, and what could be better? Mind you, it’s a chore, but do it with at least a couple of novels. Here are a few of the things to look for:

--What is the point of view? Is there more than one?
--How soon does the main character’s name appear?
--How soon does the crime appear?
--Is there a strong plot?
--What do you like or dislike about each character? Is each character distinctive in speech, appearance, or personality?
--How much dialogue is there compared to exposition?
--How often does the author tell instead of show, and does it work?
--Does the pace ever bog down? If so, how and where?
--Are the good guy and the bad guy evenly matched?
--Are there enough twists to keep you guessing?
--Did the story ultimately satisfy you? Why or why not?

Perhaps you have read a few books on writing, and you learned that passive voice is not to be used, that you must show and not tell, and that you must not mix points of view in the same chapter. And then you see that some famous writer has broken every “rule” you thought sacrosanct. Well, you won’t become a good writer simply by mechanically applying rules from a book. Understand them, sure. Then understand that they are really just guidelines that the pros either apply or ignore depending on the circumstances.
Once you take this hard look at a published novelist’s work, you can learn effective techniques for your own fiction. I think you will find it worth the effort.

Bob Sanchez has published three novels, available at


Anonymous said...

Great tips. And timely for the NaNo mystery I've just written which now must be rewritten. Thanks. Pat Bean

Bob Sanchez said...

Hey Pat, you beat the socks off me in NaNo. Maybe some of these ideas will help you in your next draft.

Morgan Mandel said...

Great advice, Bob. Usually I read for pleasure,but when I consistently find rules broken by an author, I do get aggravated. A few broken rules don't bother me, if they forward the plot.

It's obvious when an author who knows better does sloppy writing.

Morgan Mandel

Rick Bylina said...

Write on! Bob. Understand the "rules" and then bend the heck out of them to keep the reader glued to the page and wondering what's next with regard to the plot without the intricasies of writing that sometimes only linger in the mind's or writers. On first pass, all those telltale signs of what the writer did should be like shadows on the wall in a dark room, there, but unnoticeable until you look for them.

Peter Bernhardt said...

Great analysis, Bob. Know that the rules are guidelines and know when your story demands that you deviate on occasion. Thanks. Peter.
Peter Bernhardt, Author, "The Stasi File: Opera and Espionage - A Deadly
Combination;" Quarter Finalist 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award;
Amazon/Amazon Kindle; Sequel: "Teya's Kiss." - -
tweet @sedonawriter