Saturday, March 5, 2016

Breaking Down Books

Scott D. Parker

How often do you break down a book you’ve read to see how it’s built?

On Wednesday, I wrote a review of BOUNTY ON A BARON by Robert J. Randisi. One of the things that amazed me was just how fluidly I got through the story. It was effortless. No sooner had I started than I was sucked into the tale and just went along for the ride.

How did Randisi accomplish this? I set about to discover the answer.

About a quarter of the way into the book, I started taking notes. With pencil in hand, I jotted bullet points per chapter about the action. Later in the novel, as Randisi inserted more than one scene per chapter, I sub-divide my bullet points into scene. When I had completed the novel, I wrote all my notes into a ledger so I could refer to it in the future.

What emerged was the structure of a well-crafted story. Next I did a little internet research to discover if Randisi, author of over 650 books (no, that’s not a typo) outlined ahead of time. Surely, that’s the only way a writer could be this prolific. Nope. He just goes. Naturally, having decades and hundreds of novels of experience, much of the mechanics of writing a story is now ingrained in his mind, but still.

Looking at this book at such a high level, the mechanics of the story start to reveal the overall story structure. Sure you can see that in one later chapter, he had five small scenes in one chapter, but sometimes, those little scenes were merely setup for later scenes. It proved to be a constant flow of small little cliffhangers and denouements throughout the entire book, to say nothing of the overall climax and epilogue.

I’ve read in more than one place that some beginning writers will actually type out a book they enjoy literally to get the feel of a book. I’m not one of those people. This structure breakdown is enough for me.

The exercise is illustrative, however. Just having a book diagrammed out enables a higher level of storytelling. I’ve heard that what happens when you dictate a novel, a professional goal for 2016.
Do y’all breakdown a book into its component parts in order to learn how it was constructed? Is there another exercise y’all do? I’m curious.


I’m listening to the latest novel by Clive Cussler, THE PHAROAH’S SECRET. It’s a Kurt Austin adventure, my first of this series. Cussler has five by my count: Dirk Pitt, Isaac Bell, NUMA Files (Austin), Oregon Files, and the Fargo Adventure.

Well, midway in PHAROAH, there’s a shootout and Kurt hears the voices of a couple other people. When they get closer, he realizes they are characters from the Oregon Files. And, what’s even cooler, when they namedrop the case their investigating, I realized that it’s in the *next* Cussler book to be published in May, THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE.

How cool is that!

In all the books I’ve written to date, all my characters typically walk on in nearly every book. But I’ve never had the idea of something like this. You know what this means, right? In, EMPEROR’S REVENGE, I’ll get to see the exact same scene but from the POV of the Oregon characters.

That is really, really neat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would love to see the breakdown of the novel. It is a great idea.