Construction Zone: Down to the Bones

I’ve talked about this before, but now that I’ve actually completed revisions on a story where I put it to a big test, I wanted to revisit the idea. When I need to rework a sentence in my work, I’ve been using novels (any novel), to find a sentence that is similar to what I want mine to be, and using the grammatical structure to rework my own sentence. I use traditionally published novels for this for two reasons: I can be sure that even though it’s probably not perfect, it’s had a professional editor’s eyes on it at least once, so there’s a very good chance the grammar & punctuation is correct. I would use self-pubbed novels too if I were sure they’d been edited, and if I had any in print format (which I currently don’t). Still, we all have traditionally published paperbacks (is that too big of an assumption?) laying around, and thus, our own mass market editing “samples”.

For example, as I was editing Tempest, I had a copy of Samantha Hunter ’s Pick Me Up beside me. Tempest is romance (though not Harlequin style), and my biggest issue in some spots was how to vary my sentence structure. Every time I reached a spot that needed reworking structurally, I’d open Sam’s book, pick out several types of structure, decide what might work with my own voice, and go from there. Note, I didn’t actually copy her words or voice, I just used the variances in her grammatical sentence structure to give me ideas for varying and changing my own.

I’ll sometimes use several books for samples on formatting (chapter length, scene structure, etc), depending on where I can find the information I need. I actually use thriller novels (James Rollins , Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, and Jeffery Deaver) to structure my scene endings and beginnings from – even in my romance novels. Obviously I take no words, but I study how they structure the scene, paragraphs and sentences for maximum affect, and then try to blend the structure into something I can use to keep readers turning my romance pages.

I haven’t completely gotten the hang of it yet, but it’s definitely helping. I could read countless books on how to write/edit a novel, but for me, I need the real thing to learn from – watching the masters work, as it were, and delving into the “bones” of their writing to base my own work off of. My latest experiment with this is sex scenes…and as you might imagine, that is proving rather interesting.

Have you tried this – taking your favorite novels and really examining the structure underneath the words to apply to your own writing? If so, did it help? If not, why?

4 comments on “Construction Zone: Down to the Bones

  1. Brooklyn Ann

    That is a really good idea, however, I don’t think I can do it. Every time I read an author whose style I enjoy, I get too sucked into the story to focus on their structure.
    But I’ve noticed that I unconsciously imitate some of their styles. When I read Anne Rice my work was bogged down with description, and when I’m on a Stephen King kick, I get a little too hooked on italics 🙂

  2. Erica

    Nice post! I never thought of doing this for sentence structure before, but that makes total sense. For other stuff I usually do.

    Thanks for sharing ;o)

  3. Rayvenne

    I like this idea. Not near editing just yet but that I may have to try this when revising and editing my manuscript 🙂

  4. Carol

    Although I do enjoy seeing the way other authors phrase things, I usually avoid reading the kind of story I’m writing, ie., if I’m writing a space opera I won’t read other space romances; if I’m writing paranormal, I avoid paranormals.

    I’ve never tried using other writing as template, but I do have a tendency to rearrange my sentences as I go along. This is probably why it takes me so long to post comments, I keep rewording what I have to say until I get it right. 🙂

    I’ve only changed the wording of this comment about six times before finally hitting the submit button. 🙂