One of the best concepts I learned was to analyze published books: look at the book critically and see what works and why it works. Also take note of what doesn’t work, and think about what could have been done to make it work.

[example: if you found the end of a book predictable, why was it predictable? Did it help that you knew how it would end, or did that make the story fall flat?]

Remember that audience interaction is a part of writing – your story is interacting with the reader. Once you start to understand the way a novel works, then you can take that understanding into your own writing. Determine the type of book you’re going to write. Do you want to keep the reader guessing the whole time? Do you want to make the reader cry? Do you want to create believable characters? Now find books that are similar to what you want to write and see what works for them.

Here are some ideas to help you develop a critical eye:

  1. Pick your favorite book and reread it. Why is your favorite book?
  2. Pick a book that you think is well-written. Now open the book to a chapter and start reading. Out loud. Underline or highlight sentences that sound good (note: this is a very bad idea if the book is from the library…). Now what about those sentences make them sound good?
  3. Is there something in a book you’ve read that confused you? Why is that?
  4. Look at the beginning. Does the story start off well? Are you sympathetic to the protagonist?
  5. Does the middle sag? Do you lose interest or skip over areas? What made you lose interest?
  6. Does the ending leave you satisfied? If not, what fell flat?
  7. Do you keep thinking about the book after you put it down? Why?
  8. Do you care about the main character? When did you start to care about the character?
  9. Ask yourself any of the following and then why. Does the book pull you through from start to end? Are the characters realistic?
  10. Take a scene from a book that you think is weak. Now rewrite it. What did you have to fi to make it stronger?