Structure: Do You Analyze Novels?

Early in my journey on the writing apprentice’s road, I read a lot of novels, but couldn’t really analyze the structure. I only knew that I liked or disliked a book. What about you? Do you analyze published novels for structure?
Writing Tip for Today: Some of the best tools for analyzing a novel’s structure are scenes, pacing and how the author blends back story, setting and emotions. Here’s a way to see what is working for a novel:

  • Scenes. Look for dialogue and action. Dialogue is often a key indicator of a scene. One exercise I do in my novel writing classes is to open a bestselling novel and find the first dialogue. If a novel has few scenes, it’s liable to be very introspective and effective only in the most skilled hands. As you analyze, note how long scenes are, how many typically occur in a chapter, or how many characters are typically on stage during a scene. Count the CSD (Concrete Sensory Detail) of some scenes. Do these contain the Eleven Elements?
  • Pacing. Look for the “beats” of action or dialogue and how these compare to the “telling” or narrative between scenes. Narrative will be minus the dialogue and feature interior thought. How does the timeline work? Examine how the author manages time by noting the transitions between scenes. How does the author get from one event to the the next event? What events does the author omit, such as waking up in the morning or other mundane tasks?
  • Blending. Take a look at how an author blends or weaves setting, back story and emotions. Are these elements painted around the dialogue and action as opposed to big chunks of description followed by scenic action? How long are the flashbacks or back story? How often does the author use “said” as an attribution versus a beat of action, interior thought, back story or emotion?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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