Researching The Writing Styles of Published Authors

I’ve heard of new writers trying to learn how published authors write. Here is one way to learn: Take apart one of their books. I’ve done this to a point, but never in a big way. Now I’m going to and I hope others learn from what I do and learn.

So, here I go.

I love to read mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. One of my favorite authors is Greg Iles. In some small ways, I tend to write like him–maybe not as good, not yet–but we do have some things in common. We like to pepper action and dialogue with narrative summary about the character’s motivations: back story. And our stories are not so fast paced that the reader is worn out from trying to keep up. They don’t have life or death action and decisions on every page. Instead, we move the readers along at a good pace, fast enough to avoid boredom, but slow enough for readers to get deeply involved in the psychological side of our characters.

I think Greg Iles is a top notch writer. I want to learn more about how he writes. I want to see the proportions of dialogue, action, back story, and description in his writing, and how those parts are dispersed.

I have a copy of True Evil, by Greg Iles, and I have my trusty hi-liters, one color for each category of writing mechanics.

I’m going to read through the book, marking all the dialogue in green, all the narrative summary in orange, etc. It will take several read throughs, at least for me, but when I’m done I’ll have a clear picture of how a really good writer puts a book together. I’ll have a good example of what a modern novel by a strong writer looks like. I’ll be able to see how much back story there is, and where it is used. I’ll see the balance between narrative summary and dialogue, and will be able to see how Mr. Iles gives each character a distinct voice. I’ll see how the description is worked in–in dialogue? narration? character reactions?

This exercise can help any writer. Yes, it’s a lot of work. I have neither the time, nor the money, to get a Masters in English, so this a class. I want to be pubbed and I’m willing to work hard.

I could just write, and write, and re-write, until I figure it all out. Until I improve by osmosis. But I think hard work is probably more productive.

If you decide to use this exercise, make sure to choose an author you admire, and a novel that isn’t so old that the writing style is no longer accepted in the publishing world–gone is the day when you could open a novel with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Today, people want immediate gratification. They want everything to be fast, easy, entertaining.

I hope you will return, to see what my class taught me–or better yet, grab one of your favorite books and work along with me, and when you’re finished, let me know how it went.


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