Conflicted… again.

Paula’s Post #84

I”m conflicted.

If you read my post from last week, Open for Debate, you’ll note that this week, I had every good intention of continuing with the topic of ‘deconstruction’ as a tool to improve our writing. As I noted last week:

Just like the title on the Meccano box says: we’re going to start with ‘parts and how to use them’. Each of us will figuratively rip a bestselling novel apart, and then examine the bits and pieces of the type of book we want to write. We’ll study each of those bits and pieces, having regard to the end product we wish to write, until we have a solid understanding of what made those novels ‘tick’.

So, determined to make good on that promise, I walked down the road of good intentions this weekend, spending hours on Amazon and Goodreads, trying to decide exactly which novel I wished to ‘deconstruct’.

It had to be a good one. It had to be an author I loved, or could fall in love with. It had to be an author who’d met with high critical acclaim in the mystery-suspense genre.

Soon, a number of excellent candidates vied for my attention:

John Grisham’s Pelican Brief – a great yarn and a strong female lead. And I’d read it. A long time ago, but I’d read it. They even made it into a movie! A pretty good movie starring Julia Roberts.

Pelican Brief

Stuart Wood’s Orchid Beach – the first in his Holly Barker series. I hadn’t really read much of Wood’s work, (he’s more known to readers for his Stone Barrington series) but poking around, I discovered he publishes about three books a year under his contract with Putnam, and something like his last 30 novels have all been hardback bestsellers on the New York Times list for fiction. Not too shabby.

Orchid Beach

Margaret Maron: The Bootlegger’s Daughter – Where the heck have I been? I haven’t read Maron’s series either. But her protagonist, Judge Deborah Knott, according to my research, has just appeared in the 19th book in this venerable, award-winning series. What else did I discover? Maron’s won the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards. A stellar achievement. (I hopped right over and ‘liked’ her page on facebook).

Bootlegger's Daughter

Hilary Davidson: – Damage Done – The debut novel in her Lily Moore series and an Anthony award winner for best first novel, not to mention finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. A pretty hot start, right out of the gate. But wait, I haven’t read that one either.

Damage Done

By now, I’m beginning to get a little knot in my tummy repeating this over and over again. Maybe I’ve been working too hard at my ‘other’ work’, I mutter under my breath. ‘What’s that dear’, my husband asks. ‘Nothing.’

I shake my head, startled at how far I’ve fallen behind in my reading.

Louise Penny – Still Life – Canadian author of mystery novels and winner of the Ellis and Anthony awards, for her debut novel featuring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Homicide Department of the Surete du Quebec.

Still Life

Whew! I can wipe my brow with relief. I discovered the fabulous Ms. Penny last year, and even blogged about it in my January post: Reflections on my ‘Not Writing’ Life.

Damn! I have a sneaking suspicion that is maybe what we are all doing with this whole deconstruction project. Not writing, that is. This isn’t good. Not for a writers’ group.

So that’s why I’m conflicted.

Last evening, I explained the whole deconstruction idea to my husband, always a good sounding board. He listened for awhile, mostly patiently, while I described what we hoped to achieve. He even hung in there as I read the first pages of several of the novels I was considering ‘deconstructing’ (he voted for Louise Penny, by the way).

In the end, however, he turned to me with growing impatience and said, quote:

“Success is measured by how well you tell your stories and not by whether you make the best seller list. You shouldn’t try to be an industry, some of them (the bestselling writers) are just bad writers!”

“Go back to your Hawaii novel and tell a good story.”

He thinks we 5writers are becoming way too pre-occupied with writing about writing, and have lost sight of the whole purpose: which is just to tell a good story.

I told him I would think about that, and would even include his words in my blog today.

So I am.

Food for thought: maybe I shouldn’t get bogged down in deconstructing someone else’s bestselling novel. Maybe I should just tell the story I want to tell.

I’ve told my 5writers’ colleagues that if I do ‘Deconstruct’ it likely will be either Louise Penny’s ‘Still Life‘ or ‘ Margaret Maron’sThe Bootlegger’s Daughter‘.

But I remain conflicted.

Yet, in the end, maybe we don’t need to be ‘all in’ on this. One of the best articles about ‘deconstruction’ for writers is Kathy Steffen’s ’10 Steps for Deconstructing a Novel (or How to Learn from Great Authors). Steffen prefaces her ’10 steps’ with the following advice, which I’ve excerpted in full:

The best way to learn how to write a book is to read and write. Seriously. The write part is easy (hahaha—at least in theory). Write. As much as you can—early in the morning, or at night, or at lunch, or write every day at a specific time, or, or, or…(for ideas on time to write, here are some ideas in Make Time to Write and Find Time to Write). You get the idea.

Now for the reading part. If you are a writer, you are probably a voracious reader. Read, read, read everything you can, especially in the genre you want to write. Reading other’s work will help you study story structure and analyze what works and what doesn’t so you can apply concepts of writing that resonate with you to your own writing. How to do this? Read first as a reader to enjoy the book, then go beyond the “magic” and take a look behind the curtain to discover how the writer enthralled you. Get that other part of your brain working—not the imagination part, but the analytical part. Read as a writer. Deconstruct your favorite novels.

Novel deconstruction isn’t a book report where you just tell what happened in the book. This is a method of digging beneath the surface of the book to see what makes it a can’t-put-it-down read. This can be an eye-opening experience. Give it a try!

Good advice, eh?

I’m going to think about that, but first, I’m going to catch up on my reading.

2 thoughts on “Conflicted… again.

  1. Pingback: Deconstructing Deconstructing | 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

  2. This would all be so much easier if the days were twice as long, right? 😉 I’ve learned I can’t read too many “craft” books very often because they overwhelm me with advice and approaches for writing, and then I wonder if anything I’ve written is actually any good, and maybe I shouldn’t work on a story until I have a better handle on “how” to do it…. And you can guess where that leaves my self-confidence and word counts.

    I can see the wisdom in your husband’s words. Sometimes we need to step aside from the advice and experts and plant our butts in the chair and just write!

    PS—love the new hair style and gravatar!

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