Tuesday, November 10, 2009

*gasps for breath*

I don't usually read James Patterson's books, but Sunday I finished reading his latest, Sail, "co-written" by Howard Roughan. It's about a family that goes on a two-month sailing trip and encounters disaster after disaster. The quote on the back says "Written with blistering pace and shocking twists… SAIL takes Lost and Survivor to a new level of terror."

Now, I wouldn't necessarily call Sail terrifying, but it was an exciting read and an interesting story. But I noticed something about the way I was reading that never used to happen to me -- anytime I got caught up in the story and whipped through four or five pages in a blur, I'd stop and marvel at the fact that printed words had me gasping for breath along with the characters.

How'd they (he) do that?

I'd flip back a couple pages and skim over what I'd just read to figure out (or deconstruct as some might call it) exactly how the author elicited a physical response from me, then see if there's a way to do that with my own writing. My current novel is certainly no thriller, but I have some tense scenes that leave my characters struggling for breath and I'd love to cause that reaction in the reader as well.

I have several writing friends who regularly analyze novels to get to the root of what the author is doing and see how they can learn from that process. It's always seemed like a lot of work to me, but for the first time I understand how it can be useful to me as a writer.

Thanks Mr. Patterson!

Do you analyze books that you read for pleasure, or do you keep your writing and reading minds separate?


My niece turns sixteen today, so if you live in Michigan, keep a close eye on your rearview mirror! Happy birthday!


stacey said...

I do and can't help myself *sigh*. I'm fascinated by the way Janet Evanovich writes in the first person SO well in her Stephanie Plum novels. I try it and it turns into a hideous mistake. :P

Melanie Avila said...

I just started reading another Stephanie Plum book last night. Her lightheartedness is contagious.

Natasha Fondren said...

We listen to the Stephanie Plum novels, and that's where I really learned a lot about how crafted her novels were. They seem so simple on the surface, but wow... there's a lot of writing going on.

I often re-type scenes I read like that. A lot of the great (music) composers learned by copying the manuscripts of those who'd gone before, so when I turned writer, I followed their example. It's AMAZINGLY helpful, even moreso than re-reading. So is listening to the audio... sometimes I'll do all three.

I'm digging into John Irving's newest now, Last Night in Twisted River, and now that I've read this post, I'm doing Sail next. I need to get the feel for action better.

Adam said...

I will occasionally skip back and reread something to figure out how the author achieved something, but that's as far as I go. :)



Lisa Marie Miles said...

I started to read Sail and didn't get far. Not because it wasn't interesting, but because I have too many books I'm reading at once. I'll have to get it out of the library again. I just read The Quickie by him and it was a page-turner.

Melanie Avila said...

Natasha, you go above and beyond what I'll ever do with reading. It's very impressive. :)

Adam, I skip back so much that I sometimes don't realize until I've reread a passage three or four times.

Lisa, it wasn't the greatest book I've ever read, but his suspense-building is superb. I need quick reads every now and then.

Erica said...

I sometimes do this with romance scenes, cause those sometimes cause me to get goosebumps. I also have done this with action- how do you write what happens all at once?

It does help :)

I like James Patterson. His woman's murder club series is my favorite of his. I'll have to put this one on my list :)

I'll keep an eye out for your niece... LOL

Word verification: Mermen!

Janna Qualman said...

Yep, I feel like I can't not analyze the fiction I read. Gets old, but then, I know it's helping me on some level.

This JP novel sounds really good! Different than those of his I've read before.

Melanie Avila said...

Erica, I think I handle action scenes okay. The trick is to remember what happens first. Sounds generally come first, and then you just have to make sure everything is physically possible. It starts to get confusing when two men are fighting (something I have in both novels) because you have lots of "his fist" and "his face", etc.

HilARIOUS about Mermen!!

Janna, I definitely critique while I read, but I don't know if I'd call it analyzing. Does that get tiring?

Nadine said...

I still haven't read a JP book but I definitely need to!

I don't find myself analyzing the books I read, but I've definitely taken a second look at a few for pacing when trying to fix my own pacing problems.