Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Dissection

I've never liked dissection. What's the point of it, anyway? Can't you just find pictures on the internet of an animal's insides without having to smell the horrifying scent, get your hands dirty, and hear your classmate throw up? However, my science teachers have always loved dissection. They find cutting into frogs, crayfish, and worms interesting because it allows you to observe first-hand the structure and anatomy of the specimen.

Book dissection is the same way, except it doesn't involve gagging. Dissecting a book can help to uncover a story's original elements.By taking it apart piece by piece you will expose how the plot structure was formed and how the author composed the story. Although I've never heard anyone call this process "dissecting a book", it fits well. Besides, you don't have to wear gloves for this one.

As I was reading "Novel Idea", I came across a section written by Linda Hall. She explained some great tips on "dissecting a book", except she referred to it as treating the novels you read as "textbooks".

"When you come across words that describe how something looks, sounds, smells, feels, or tastes, highlight them in blue. Use pink for interesting analogies... Use a green pen for examples of showing and not telling... Use a yellow highlighter for ways the writer moves characters from scene to scene... When you get to the end of a chapter and simply must move on to the next one, ask yourself why... A purple highlighter can be used for dialogue that sounds natural and drives plot along... Look at the whole novel. What made you want to keep reading it? Write that down on the front flap of the book. Then keep these "textbook" novels close to your writing desk and refer to them."
~Linda Hall

Her ideas can make book dissection really simple. In fact, I tried it out today. Even though it did take a while, it really is beneficial and now I have "textbook" novels to refer to if I ever get stuck when writing.

Here are some other ways you could "dissect" a novel:
  • Write an outline of the plot. Get out a notebook and create an Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, and Act 4 structure of the plot using whatever method you normally use to outline your stories.
  • Study the character development. Which characters do you like the most? Why or why not? Write down how the author introduced the character, your first impression, his/her personality, etc. How did each of them contribute to the story's plot?
  • Create the novel's time line. Maybe it doesn't have to be quite as detailed as you would write if this were your own novel, but it may help give you a better understanding of how your story's time line should flow.

There are many ways that you could dissect a book, just as there are many ways to dissect a pig. If you've ever "dissected" a book before, how did you do it? Did you create an outline of the novel you're studying, or use the tips Linda Hall suggested and highlight certain select sentences?


"To succeed as a novelist, reading novels must be a priority. Don't be afraid. You won't lose your voice; you will only enhance it. And soon, students will be using your novels as their textbooks."
~Linda Hall


  1. very helpful! :)

    lauren anne

  2. Great idea, and definitely a lot less messy and stinky than dissecting a frog. Not to mention your lunch will stay in place. :)

  3. Interesting! I would much rather prefer to dissect a book than a frog! And after highlighting all the specific parts in a 'textbook' it would look more like a rainbow book! :)

  4. That is a fantastic idea! It means you really have to think about how the author is doing things. Trying it on a bad copy of Pride and Prejudice...


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