Study published authors

I spent an hour or two studying a couple of published author’s novels to get a feel for how they wrote all the elements of a scene and how it fit into plot.

I ended up with a table of the main elements. If you want to follow the exercise then do the steps below. Find a published novel you love and work through the first scene of the first chapter.

Set up a 4 column table, and label them Paragraph, Structure, Parts of scene, Plot.

You can do the exercise without the numbering column, but I put it in to see the overall shape of the chapter.

Work through the first paragraph and pick out each part of the sentences that make the structure of the paragraph.

My example is from Shadowsinger by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Heavy wet flakes drifted past the windows of the Liedfuhr’s study, each window hung with maroon velvet drawn back to reveal an early-spring snow that has already dropped more than half a yard of whiteness on the city, and on the ice that still covers the River Toksul.

In the first row of the table after the headings I got:

Paragraph = 1

Structure = Weather, building, walls, season, view, time of day

Parts = Desc of stage, set, emotion

Plot = I left this cell empty because there is no character need, no conflict and no twist or change to the scene.

For the second paragraph of the scene:

The man who stands before the windows, looking out, wears a sky-blue tunic with a silver chain bearing the amulet-seal of the Liedfuhr of Mansuur around his neck and a mourning band of black and maroon upon his left arm. For a moment, his hard green eyes flick to the ice-and-snow-covered river that cuts through the city, if well below and beyond the hill on which the palace rests. Then, he turns, standing beside the polished wooden desk that has graced the study for three generations, and asks, ‘You think Neserea will fall before harvest?’

The second row of the table I got:

Paragraph = 2

Structure = C1, clothes, jewellery, position, eye colour, action, furniture, speech

Parts = Desc of C1, status, shinbangers

Plot = Need of C1

C1 is shorthand for character one. The need of C1 is displayed but the reader has to read further to see if he wants Neserea to fall or not fall.

I continued on and located the conflict, which was shown in the speech of the two characters, and the twist or change of scene in the second last paragraph.

Now, you work through a scene for a book you love and when finished you will see the structure of the scene and how the author incorporated all the elements that make up a scene.

Did you see how the published author wove in all the parts of the scene effortlessly, with no wasted words?

Let me know how you went, or if you found a better way of breaking down the scene into its elements please let me know.

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9 comments so far

  1. Texanne on

    Hey, dj. Very useful post. It had never occurred to me to breakout a published novel this way, even though I do a worksheet before I begin to write a scene. Excellent idea. And, have you changed the look of your blog, or has my memory joined my knees on the junkheap of history? 🙂

    • djmills on

      Thanks Texanne! I am trying to take a leap to the next level of writing so I applied some sideways thinking to look at the difference between my scenes and scenes of Modesitt. I love all his books! Next I will try some other authors and compare them to Modesitt, and me! Hopefully, my next scenes will shine after I write them.

      No, same old blog. 🙂 I am not sure I have the skills to mess around with it.

  2. imotherofpearl on

    Just identifying the scenes in one of my favourite novels (Cross-Stitch) helped enormously. I’m going to go through the whole book to see how many scenes, how long etc – then I think I’m going to pick out my favourite scenes (the candy bar scenes?) to use your technique.

    • djmills on

      Please let me know what you learn from the process.

  3. ekcarmel on

    I started doing something of this sort myself, though I only break it down to scenes, not paragraphs. I tried to come up with the Sentence Lite for each, then listed the details I was looking for. (You are so much more organized than I am!) It helps enormously to see how a pro structures her scenes, chapters, novel.

    • djmills on

      Did you get A Sentence Lite for each of the scenes? Or did the author not provide all the parts of each scene? I found that in quite a few scenes of the books I studied. 🙂

      • ekcarmel on

        I’m working my way through three novels by different authors now. I should have just focused on one at a time, because I’m only part way through each. Each had a particular subject or style I was interested in.

        Some scenes are definitely harder to figure out all the elements, though so far I’ve identified them in each scene. However, I haven’t gotten through the notorious middle chapters yet, so maybe I shouldn’t speak so hastily.

  4. djmills on

    Take your time, EKCarmel, but I would be happy to know what you learnt from the process. 🙂
    Maybe you should only work on one novel at a time, so your attention is not divided. It is only a suggestions, but you know best what works for you.

    • ekcarmel on

      LOL – you’re absolutely right!


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