Deconstruction: Learning from the Masters

Paula’s Post #86

I have a little confession to make.

I actually had already decided what novel I wished to ‘deconstruct’  when I put up my post earlier this afternoon. Not only that, I’d  even started working on the deconstruction process.

But for today’s blog post, I so wanted to use an excerpt from the novel I had chosen. Yet I didn’t think I should do that without first asking the author’s permission, (even though likely covered by the ‘fair use’ exception to copyright infringement).

I didn’t expect to hear back from that author in time to write my blog post for today. At least not before the World Series started, which I know my husband wanted to watch.

He’s on the ferry, he’s on his way home. He’s already phoned and asked me to record the game and order pizza. So, with that in mind, I decided I’d better get my blog post done before he arrived home. As you may have gathered from my earlier post, we take the World Series seriously in my house. (Or not, depending on who is playing).

But that the answer to my email arrived, just as I posted. So for my ‘real’ blog post of the day, I’d like to thank our multi-talented, award-winning Canadian mystery author Ms. Louise Penny for granting me permission to reproduce the first paragraph of her first novel, Still Life. 

Still LIfe

On her website,, Ms. Penny reveals that when she was starting out, she was turned down more times than she cares to admit and so now shares advice with other writers on getting published.

She knows what it is like to walk in our shoes, so to speak. Her debut novel, Still Life, winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards, was repeatedly rejected.

But take a moment and read the opening paragraph with me. I call it, ‘Learning from the Masters’. In one short paragraph, Ms. Louise Penny ‘hooks us’ with 4 of the classic 5W’s (no, not 5writers – the other 5W’s) and reels us into her masterfully plotted story:


Deconstruction, Learning from the Masters 

Louise Penny –  Canada’s Award-Winning Author 

Opening/Introducing the Victim:

“Miss. Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all around. Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless you’re of the belief everything happens as it is supposed to. If so, for seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.” 

Ms. Penny has answered the 4 out of 5 of the classic 5W’s:

– Who? – Ms. Jane Neal, age 76

– What? – met her unnatural death,

– When? – in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday

– Where? – in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines, in the bright and brittle leaves

– How?- ah, she’d fallen spread eagled…. but, but, but… wait! We don’t really know about the “how”… and what we really, really don’t know, is the heart and soul of any good of the mystery…


Don’t you want to read on?

My heartfelt thanks to Ms. Penny for kind permission to excerpt her paragraph.

Game on.

6 thoughts on “Deconstruction: Learning from the Masters

  1. Great work reaching out to Louise Penny! I really enjoyed “Still Life” — what a fantastic debut novel. Looking forward to sharing your deconstruction!

  2. Thanks Silk, a lesson to us all, she was back to me with permission within a couple of hours of receiving my request. Very professional and very encouraging. FYI, she’s on facebook too, but apparently not twitter. What about your Mr. Burke?

  3. I do love Louise Penny’s stories! I went into the first of them predisposed to like the writing because I liked what I knew of the person, I liked mysteries, and I liked to support Canadian authors. None of those was the reason I kept reading her books. I was simply hooked right from the first paragraphs. Goes to show the importance of capturing the reader quickly. 🙂

  4. So true, isn’t it Carol. We know to reach out and hook, but we seem to get carried away and go off n tangents nevertheless. But Ms Penny’s clear prose reminds us it doesn’t have to be complicated, we don’t need to allow ourselves to get side tracked. A great example of purposeful, spare, beautiful writing. Thanks again for following!

  5. In both the story I’ve written, and the one I hope to begin, the first person narrator is a young man, maybe late teens, into whom life crashes, and gets figured out later, only to inflict another crash. (They’re different characters in different unrelated stories, but really the same personality.) How do you get the reader hooked in a paragraph, or the first few pages, when you have such a narrator, whom I don’t think I can change because he’s me way back then?

  6. Aye, there’s the rub. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we interject our own personas, (or what we perceive to be our own personas) into our protagonists – I may blog about that this week, – with the idea that maybe it is time to stretch our skills a little bit and try to change it up – write a protagonist that is not based on ‘us’ in some essence. I haven’t entirely decided on the next book I am going to write, (I’m getting a lot of ‘push’ from Silk to go with a half written, noir detective story set late 1930’s Honolulu, – the protagonist in that book will be male, one of a team of two detectives. Just haven’t decided on whether it should be the younger gentleman (Hapa Haole Hawaiian) (which is what I intended when I first wrote the story) or his perhaps more interesting superior, an ‘old school’ Chinese detective. Both very much outside my usual comfort zone for protagonists, – especially the cross-gender (author to protagonist) issues to deal with along the way.

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