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Deconstruct a favorite book.


Books are magical things, aren’t they? As writers, we love to stumble upon a book that we find “magical.” But as authors, we know that there is so much more to a book than first appears.

That’s why “Deconstruct a Favorite Book” is the tip this week, and it’s something that I am guilty of not doing often enough.

Pick up one of your favorite books.

It could be a classic, a mystery, a young adult, a dystopian, anything. But it will be easier if you keep it on the shorter side.

Now read it. And as you read, pay attention to those defining moments every book has: hook, inciting event, pivot points, midpoint, climax, resolution. If you aren’t sure what those are, check out my previous article on it, or for a more in-depth look, K.M.Weiland’s series here.

As an author, you should notice these moments pretty naturally. However, if your favorite book is a book you enjoyed since before you really knew about story structure or before you began writing your own stories, you may not have paid much attention the last time you read it. And it’s less likely that you paid attention to the structure of a favorite book, or a book you’ve only read once and couldn’t put down. (Usually those are the books you read fast and furiously, in one or a few sittings, and you don’t pay much attention to the “behind-the-scenes” structure.)

Good story structure should be nearly invisible, because it naturally supports the overall story. [Tweet this.]

In houses, the underlying structure is only revealed by the walls and trim put over it. In books, the underlying structure is so natural to the story that you don’t pay attention to it individually. It would be like seeing a house and drawing attention to one wall. Unless that wall is pretty spectacular or pretty ugly, you’re not going to give one little wall a whole lot of attention.

But now’s the time to really pull apart that book that you read and couldn’t put down the last time. Maybe it’s Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, maybe it’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Maybe it’s Stephen King’s It.

Whatever it is, dust it off, pick it up, and reread it. Entirely.

And reread it with a pack of sticky notes, and, if you’re into that kind of thing, a highlighter and/or pen or pencil. (Did someone just gasp?)

What are you looking for?

Pay special attention to the 25% mark, the 50% mark and the 75% mark, because those are the spots where big things happen. But also look at those spots halfway between the 25 and 50% marks, and the 50 and 75% marks. Why? Because there are minor spots there too.

But don’t stop at story structure. Look at transitions between scenes, examine characters and dialogue, conflict, scene and sequel, adverbs, adjectives, sentence structure, punctuation.

Once you finish…

After you finish the book, flip back through and see if you forgot something that turned out to be rather important. It could have been a character involved in the twist at the end, a foreshadowing, or a moment where the antagonist did something that hinted at the ending.

Make a short outline of the book. Don’t go scene by scene, but just jot down the main points, the story structure. What it tells you should be expected…almost boring.

All done?

So this isn’t where your study should end. Because the magic of a story doesn’t lie in story structure…does it? (This exercise was partly to prove that to you. Story structure doesn’t limit a book, doesn’t make it less enjoyable, or less unique, but allows you to lose yourself in a story.)

Look at your notes again and think. Focus on what it is about this book that makes you love it. You may worry that a study of this type will ruin your favorite book, and it might–if it’s not what you remember–but examining a book (any book) in this fashion is what will make you a stronger writer.

Tell me: What is your favorite book? Have you deconstructed it? What did you learn?