Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jim Adam – Learning from Successful Writers

    Learning from Successful Writers

    by Jim Adam

    When a book or series becomes popular, it can have a negative influence on our writing.  We begin to emulate the author’s style, or worse, we find ourselves writing a story “just like” the bestseller.  While there’s nothing wrong with such a copycat approach, most of us are out to develop a distinct voice and style.  Still, we can learn a lot by studying the writing of our favorite authors.

    Studying, though, means more than just re-reading.  Rather, we need to consider the book or story not as a reader, but as a writer, dissecting and analyzing instead of just enjoying.

    One useful exercise that I’ve seen recommended elsewhere is to take five books that you admire and do a chapter-by-chapter outline of each one.  For genres like romance, thriller, and mystery, that sort of analysis seems almost required, if you want to understand how such stories are structured and how pacing is handled.  But such an exercise can be helpful for all of us, because it forces us to approach the books in a more formal, clinical way.

    Other key points to consider when studying another writer’s work:

    • Chapter beginnings and endings:  how does the author hook the reader at the start of each chapter; how often do chapters end happily; how many end with a cliffhanger.

    • Varying intensity:  do individual chapters tend to have an arc to them; how often does the conflict ratchet up vs. how often does the story introduce more sedate passages.

    • Good news management:  how does the story make a “happy coincidence” or a “convenient development” easier for readers to accept; is good news often slipped in by way of bad news.

    • Delayed resolution:  how does the story keep the protagonist from fixing a problem; without making the protagonist seem lazy or stupid.

    • Subplots:  how often is a subplot revisited; are subplots allowed to fill an entire chapter.

          When we read for pleasure, we often don’t take notice of the mechanics of the story, but there’s a lot to be learned from dissecting books that we love by writers that we admire.  The point isn’t (usually) to identify a formula or to mimic another writer’s style, but to see what general guidelines (“never give the protagonist an even break,” “ramp up the tension as you go”) look like in practice.


          In Romans 14:13, Paul tells us that we’re not supposed to put a stumbling block in front of another person. Neither should we just sit and watch people tripping over the same stumbling blook over and over. We should get up and move that stumbling block out of the way.

          In Romans 15:1, Paul goes on to say that those who are stronger in their faith must make allowances for those who are weaker. “Don’t just think about what makes you happy,” Paul says. For a long time, ever since Marcion raised some of the first objections to the Old Testament way back in the year 140 CE, Christians have been clinging to the OT because it makes them happy. Now, it’s time for Christians to take pity on those folks who have moral objections to what the OT says.

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          Genre – NonFiction

          Rating – PG13

          More details about the author

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