As I bid farewell to two wonderful classes of student writers, I suggested that if their writing got postponed for any reason, they might want to learn to analyze scenes during the down time. By studying a writer’s way with words, we can all improve our skills.
- First, Read for Pleasure. Don’t try to pick apart a piece you haven’t yet read for pleasure. The whole idea here is to go back and see if you can determine what made you like it (or not!) in the first place. I like to read and let myself be carried away by the story, and later go back and try to see the story bones.
- Start with the Lead. A great place to begin your analysis is the opening paragraph. See what kind of info the author gives you in those crucial first lines. Ask yourself what you know about the story after the lead. Chances are, you know a character’s name, setting, time period and at least the hint of some problem or desire. If the writing is stellar, you feel you know the character’s attitudes and feelings about something too.
- Scene Vs. Narrative. Another great analysis is looking for the scenes and how they compare to the narrative. The scenes are easy to spot–they almost always have some quotation marks, indicating dialogue. The narrative sums up some bit of story, and acts like a bridge to get us to the next scene. The ratio of scene to narrative adds up to the novel’s PACING.
- Other Things to Look For. The possibilities stop with your will to analyze, but some other things to look for include 1)the spot where the main conflict is first brought out. 2) The climax scene. 3) How the author handles POV shifts, if any. 4) What kinds of scenes are smack in the novel’s middle? (This is where it’s liable to drag) and 5) How is back story introduced and how long is a flashback?