Yesterday, I talked about the importance of reading (of "studying" authors and reading books through a writer's eye). Here's an assignment I give to my Creative Writing students, to help them develop that writer's eye. They choose a novel and then answer these questions. I tell them to be honest - even to examine the "flaws" in the writing/plot/characterization. No book is perfect, and I think we can learn from all books, even the not-so-great ones.
Opening and Setting:
1) Examine the title of the book. Is there a double meaning? Does the title refer to a specific object/phrase used inside the book?
2) Study the first sentence of the novel. Is it interesting/captivating? Does it make you want to read further? Why or why not?
3) Pay attention to the main setting of the book. When did the author give that information to the reader? (the first page, or 20 pages into the book?) Was the setting too obvious or given away too early, or was it just right?
4) Does the writer seem to “know” the character thoroughly? Explain your answer.
5) Do the characters feel authentic - do they seem like real people with real emotions/reactions/thoughts? Give an example.
6) What is the main character's name? Is it significant? If so, explain why.
7) Who’s your favorite character, and why?
8) What are that character’s good points, and what are his/her flaws?
9) Does that character grow or evolve from the beginning of the novel to the end? If so, explain why or how.
10) Is the writing easy to read, or does it seem challenging? (i.e., are cliches, wordiness, passive voice present?)
11) Regarding pacing -- Are there places that are slowed down by too much dialogue, exposition, or description?
12) Are there any spots that contain too much “telling” and not enough “showing?” If so, what would you suggest for these areas?
13) Examine the dialogue - did it feel natural, the way real people talk? Or was it odd or unnatural in places?
14) Did the dialogue reveal anything significant about the characters? Give a brief example.
15) Is the plot convincing, grounded in reality? (Even if it's sci-fi or fantasy, there should be grains of truth inside the plot, a believability of some sort). Or is it too outlandish to be believed?
16) Did the author use any ongoing symbols throughout the novel? If your answer was “yes,” were these symbols subtle, or too obvious?
17) What was the main conflict of the story (in just a couple of sentences)? What was the climax point of that conflict?
18) Was the ending satisfying (i.e., did it tie up loose ends and seem to “close” the story)? Why or why not?
19) If you were dissatisfied with the ending, how would YOU have written the ending, to make it better?
20) In just a couple of sentences, give your overall impression of this novel.