Or, how one compulsive lunatic writer reads a good book.
First time through—binge reading. A purely emotional ride. See previous post.
If the book is worthy, that is, if I can’t stop thinking about it, it gets a second time through. With this read, I find I start making obscure notes on the back of envelopes and scraps of my kid’s drawings and napkins Plot points, time lines, turning points, structure. Lines that are particularly funny get scribbled down. Breakdowns of technique in particular scenes. Obscure insights that I can’t decipher later. “Look at falling hair sizes.” Wha—?
At some point I realize I really am making all these notes and I decide to take it somewhat seriously. Out comes the legal tablet and an attempt at finding all the stray bits in an effort at getting them all on one page. If I’m lucky, they kind of make some sense. Sort of. Maybe.
Then come the charts. A time-line of the main plots with flowing up and down lines for each subplot and where they intersect, either supporting or becoming counter-point to the main plot: this is one of my favorites. There might also be lists of characters organized by function, say. Or perhaps, a break down of this happens on Tuesday, that happened on Wednesday, etc. At various points these charts are extremely interesting. Later, I can’t remember why.
Along with the charts come the arcs. Cause and effect arcs. Character arcs. Relationship arcs. What’s an arc? The way things change over the course of the story. For example, if a character doesn’t arc, he or she is essentially the same at the beginning and the end of the tale. How the arcs interact with each other (or not). Which leads directly to….
….themes. What the heck is this book about?
On the third reading, if there is a third reading, I find myself beginning to skim. This is interesting, too, because the bits that I skim are clearly not as important in this quest—and it does start to feel like a quest, as though I’m searching for something, doing an archeological dig, perhaps, or solving a complex mystery. The main question probably being, why do I like this book? Anyway, the bits that I skim aren’t working, or aren’t IT, or the pacing is off, so it becomes interesting to tease that apart. How could they be written (condensed? fleshed out? altered? cut?) to make me want to read them again, instead of skim? And the parts that I find I WANT to read over and over…WHY?
Those parts, the parts I slow down for and really read, over and over, this third (fourth? fifth?) reading, starts to reveal the bones of what is important to me in the book. The scenes/chapters/characters that really have my interest are the ones I keep searching out. Lifting out those out from all the details that I don’t care about as I reread, the book gets, effectively, shorter and shorter. Out comes another chart, or list, the Bits that Matter. Or possibly, The Good Parts.
From this stripped down list, which is usually fairly removed from the book itself, simplified themes, character qualities, underlying plot construction, from this list there is usually some answer to my deeper quest: a clue to my own writing. Because if I’ve dug deeply enough, I usually uncover something I really want to write about myself.
They say there are no new stories, no new ideas, just new retelling of the old ones. And the only way to find the ones I want to retell is to find the things that I’m really, really interested in. And if I’ve reread a book four or more times, it’s only because I’m really, really interested in something about it. Ding! Clue!
Next comes gestation. Because all those bones would have to build their unique flesh if they were to become my own book. And usually there are many such sets of bones from many books, dreams, movies, experiences, that come together to make my own mutant combo book thingy.
I love this process. I love finding a book or movie or whatever that has some of that spark, or better yet, a butt-load of ignited napalm, that tells me yes, this is where my interest lies. This is what my next book is about. This is what I want to spend the next year figuring out for myself.
And that is how you reverse engineer a book.
Writing novels is freaking hard, a ton of work, but also…it’s so fucking cool.
Buy my books!
Children of the Fallen, now available on Amazon.
The haunted and talented children of the glorious and terrifying...
Toby Streams the Universe at amazon.
A psychic in the big city, trying to stay sane....
The Violin Maker's Wife at amazon.
Enchanted violins can be deadly....
A girl, her vampire, his demon...
You can also listen to the Conjuring Raine free podcast. Enjoy!
coming next: The Lucidity EffectLucidity is now with the editor, woo hoo!
today's yoga practice
June 16, 2013 | 10:10 am
Primary to supta konasana. Long stay in baddha and uphavista, then ollapse. i feel so winded today!
June 16, 2013 | 10:09 am
June 16, 2013 | 10:08 am
yin yoga again. lazy yoga.
June 13, 2013 | 2:19 pm
Primary to Janu B and then I ran out of time. Better than nothing, I guess.
June 11, 2013 | 11:09 am
Primary to navasana. Chatted with Luc about his favorite show for the second half, so breathing and focus were zilch. But mama/little boy time is worth it.
- Archive for today's yoga practice »
upcoming book releases
a few greatest hits
- go, go, godzilla!
- welcome to mayaland's virtual macabre crawfish feast of death!
- screen time for fun and profit
- triple chocolate pudding goop, or, this way lies madness
- the amazing emu
- recycling other people's junk
- flying kids
- butterfly house
- the way of the bento
- the power of mom’s day can melt even the most bitter of hearts, not that my heart is bitter, but it has gotten a bit crusty around the edges
- living the tie-dyed life
- going all erin brockovich on your ass
- the incredible hulk invades the yurt
- lucille ball moment
- how to build a yurt (1 of 10)
- writing without pencil sharpening
- the source of my power
- crafts for karma
- the TOOL shed
- bikini power vs. the ratty sweater
- "Dusi's Wings" April, 2003. . . . "One thing fantasy can do for us is to give shape to the mysterious in the world; another is to make emotional yearning concrete. The early sections of "Dusi's Wings" do just that...there was a strong grasping towards the spiritual in fantasy here that was very promising, and I look forward to reading more by Lassiter." --review, Tangent Online.
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