Analyzing a Book

It’s always good to look at other authors’ work and analyze it order to improve your own writing. Here are some suggestions for ways of thinking about another author’s writing. From years of teaching writing and thinking about literature in my post grad classes, I’ve found some things that work for me-and that have helped other writers when I’ve taught classes.
If they help you, let me know? Just hoping the suggestions don’t make you feel as if you’re back in an English class! But, hey, if they do, that’s your job as a writer, isn’t it? To pack your tool box full of as many tools as you can use and to be knowledgeable about how to use those tools and to keep them shiny sharp?




1. Why do you think this book achieved success? (Remember, you didn’t necessarily have to like it.)

Authorâ name, prior history/success

Theme of book? Subject?

Something that resonates w/the current zeitgeist?

Genre/type of book?

The market it was directed towards–in other words, was it a book written

TO a market?

The characters or style?

Anything else that you can identify that caused it to go gangbusters?

2. What one thing in it would have caused you specifically to throw down your dollars and buy it? In other words, were you the market for this book?


1. What in this book got to you?

2. Part of marketing depends on the writerâ ability to reach her/his market.

Looking at the characters in this book, what has the author done to make them

resonate w/a big audience?

3. How many pages/paragraphs before the author had you hooked?

4. How did the author handle backstory?

5. What did you notice about the percentage of dialogue to narrative? How did the author deliver the dialogue–i.e., with tags, with “beats”? What was the effect?

6. How many main/secondary characters? What was the effect of whatever choice the author made to restrict # of characters or widen her/his canvas?

IF the characters were two-dimensional, cardboard, what kept you interested

in them?

7. How complicated was the plotting? Could you identify a clear goal for each

character, even minor ones? If not, did it matter? And if goals weren’t clearly defined, what did the author do to make the story come alive and keep your interest?

8. What about the pacing? What did the paragraphing look like? The sentence

lengths? What about the sentence structures, ie, are they mostly subject/verb? Introductory phrases, clauses? If you notice a pattern in the sentences, whatâ your conclusion about the effect?

Did the plotting affect the pacing? If so, what did the author do w/plot points to speed up/slow down the pacing?

9. What was the PULL THROUGH ( my personal favorite term for what keeps me reading a book!) for you in this book? Whether you adored it or

hated it (and neither reaction is important, really, to the figuring out of what made it work for others), what did the author do?

10. So–POV…was it distanced? A mind meld w/the characters? And…did it matter to the storyâ impact? If not, how did the author manage that?

11. Finally, is there anything you particularly admired in the authorâ storytelling?

Is there any technique you noticed re POV or anything else that drew you into

the book/characters?

For example, in a discussion a number of years ago, Myrna Topol pointed out

that she had observed that Mary Balogh, a writer of intensely emotional

books, consistently showed a scene first from either the heroine or heroâ

POV, then retold the scene from the other characterâ, thus enriching the

story and involving us w/the characters and their emotions.

So try to identify the HOW of the writerâ storytelling and see if you can make it apply to your own writing.

Good luck!