I agree with the theory that if we can become better artists by studying the masters, we can become better novelists by studying the master storytellers. But how do we do that?
Spreadsheet analysis of novels allows me to pattern author storytelling and plot devices. But the value in the methodology lies in the columns I create - in other words what I choose to track throughout the book. Over the years those columns have changed quite a bit for me. After reading HOOKED: WRITE FICTION THAT GRABS READERS AT PAGE ONE AND NEVER LETS THEM GO by Les Edgerton. I created a spreadsheet based on plot elements Edgerton outlines. And I'm loving it.
The spreadsheet allows me to look for patterns of problems, reactions, goals and actions. It also helps me focus on the elements of that critical beginning - a place where my novels need work.
Just as valuable as the ability to review the spreadsheet afterward, is the process of thinking about each element - words, paragraphs, pages, scenes and chapters - as I read and assign their purpose. The tool is therefore as valuable in its creation as in its end result.
Feel free to download my template from my website at www.jeanreidy.com
. You can also see how I used it to analyze Ann M. Martin's HERE TODAY on my blog at http://jeanreidy.blogspot.com/2009/05/spreadsheet-novel-analysis-and-free.html
I know the tool isn't perfect yet. For example In every novel there are those scenes in which things seem to be moving along just fine. I don't know what to call them. They aren't transitions, necessarily, because they do more than link scenes. They actually provide mood and setup for the next obstacle or problem. I'd like to know more about those storytelling elements, what they're called and how they're used effectively.
And I'd love to hear your suggestions for additional columns, uses, or changes or how you use spreadsheets to analyze or write your own novels.
In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!