I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Analyzing Other Authors' Writing Techniques

I don’t know about you, but as an aspiring writer, I look at the work of successful authors and try to figure out how they did it. How did they come up with the story line? The characters? The conflict? The scenes?

I looked at Susan May Warren (I got hooked on her Mission: Russia Series). I found out she was in Russia as a missionary. Now, I don’t know about you, but Russia is not only brrr…cold, but a long way from the conveniences we have here in the United States. Writing at that time in her life must have taken not only desire, but discipline and plain old hard work!

This year I plan to use the books from my favorite authors and start with a couple of questions on paper before I read. Why? Simple. I love to read and re-read books. The problem? I read the book and stop analyzing it!

So for me, just the advice to read the book doesn’t work. But if I start with some questions already written out, then I don’t get caught up in the book. (Okay, okay--not too caught up.) Why? Writing out questions beforehand helps when I’m stuck in my own writing. I pull out a “Quicksheet” of examples. I remember how authors set up the scenes, the emotions the scenes evoked, the pacing of the scene, the plot, etc.

How do you want to improve your writing in 2011?What specifics are you working on? Is it deepening your plot? Then ask yourself:

What made the plot of my favorite book so interesting?

What hooked me?

Are you working on creating more emotion in your writing? Find some scenes from your favorite novels. How did the authors create emotions? Ask:

What words did the author use that created emotions?

What else did the author do to tug at my emotions? Did the author use word pictures?

Write down the specifics of what the author did on your Quicksheet, so you can refer back to it when you are stuck and need a “live example”.

I’m a learn-by-example kind of gal. Show me! That’s one of the reasons I love My Book Therapy. During both the online chats and the retreats/classes, Susie uses examples from movies. The next time you're watching a favorite movie, you could add notes to your Quicksheet about how the writer creates a compelling story.


Alena Tauriainen
Prov 3:5&6


  1. Great post, Alena! I learn more from reading fiction than I do reading a non-fiction how-to book on writing, the exception being Susie's Inside Out and Deep & Wide books.

    I used to think I was a horrible person for desecrating a book by writing in it. Susie not only gave me permission to do that with her books, but she encouraged it.

    I started keeping a journal of beautiful word images to help me to try and create my own images that didn't sound cliche.

  2. Great job, Alena, and important comment, Lisa.
    When teaching college English comp. I point out how most famous artists in history, i.e. Michelangelo as a great example, learned skill by apprenticing to and learning from great masters, analyzing and utilizing their specific techniques and effects, and then developing and contributing their own. And so may we!

  3. LJ & Dee,
    Thanks so much! What a great idea, a journal book for images..that's one I am going to start doing.

  4. It's nice to know someone else analyzes, too. Sometimes I break down the entire plot of a really effective book.

    I love Tamara Alexander for her realistic romance, but especially for the way she enters and exits her scenes. She brings you in no earlier than absolutely necessary, and pulls you back out the moment her goal is accomplished. I just have to apply it to my own writing.

    Free Resources for Writers

  5. I've heard this suggestion before, but have never tried it. I need to pick a book off the shelf and marked it up or start a QuickSheet of my own.Hhhhm. Which book should I choose?

  6. Nice to know that I'm not the only one who gets caught up in the story and forgets to analyze it. I'm going to make a QuickSheet so I'll be able to focus. Thanks for the great suggestion!

  7. I try so hard, and I've done it completely for a couple of books, but agree that usually the story is so good I throw my notes to the side middway through.

    Debbie, I am so completely a Tamera Alexander fan too...her novels are amazing!

    And of course, the books I've analyzed have been our own SMWs!

  8. Alena, what a practical post! I love the idea of a quick sheet with questions. I guess I'll have to figure out the right questions to ask! :) I, too, tend to get lost in the story and forget to think about the elements that make it good. Write in a book?! Ooooh! I'll need to "get brave" and decide which one to begin with. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Alena!

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  10. I'm so glad I am not the only one who gets lost in the pages of a book.

    I'm with ya' Jeanne, I too have to get brave enough to write in a book.

    Okay, that's two suggestions, I'll have to buy a Tamera Alexander book!

  11. Really great post, Alena! Wonderful ideas! Practical and helpful...'Course, like the others, I have a feeling I'd have a crazy time trying not to get sucked into the story...:) As long as I can read the book once first for enjoyment, then a second time for my Quicksheet work...:)

  12. I'd have to do like Melissa...read the book first then go back with the questions and pen and pad in hand. But a Quicksheet is a wonderful idea. Great post Alena. And great post suggestions!