How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps

How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps

What if I told you the best way to learn how to create amazing plots and characters in your own stories was by purposeful osmosis? First, of course, I might have to explain that “purposeful osmosis” means reading lots and lots of books and watching lots and lots of movies–and consciously studying what it is about them that works. With that explanation out of the way, chances are you’re in agreement. But chances are, you’re also not entirely sure how to actually make this happen. Just how do you figure out how to study plot and character in other people’s stories?

Not too long ago, Wordplayer K.M. Updike (she of the rad initials!) emailed me, asking:

[What is] your process for studying the plot, structure, character arcs, etc., of the books you read and the movies you watch? I’ve been wondering for a while how one goes about studying the writer’s work as they read/watch.

This is an excellent question. After all, it’s easy for Stephen King to say:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut. Stephen King

Don’t get me wrong: this is a tremendous piece of advice. But it’s also pretty vague.

That’s it? We just … read? And the answers will, what? Come to us?

Yes, actually. To some extent anyway. The more we read and watch good (and bad) stories, the better our own storytelling instincts will get–without our having to do even one thing more.

But in the interest of upping our game here, how about we do a few things more? Today, I’m going to give you an actionable plan for how to study plot and character (and lots more) in your favorite stories.

1. Start With an Action Plan

The first step in being purposeful is, of course, to have a purpose. Often, you may simply want to observe the books you read and the movies you watch generally, letting the story’s own strengths and weaknesses guide your study. But it can help you dig down deeper if you have a list of things you want to consciously pay attention to.

I recommend a short list. The shorter, the better, in fact.

Why? Because your brain can only keep track of so many tangents at once (says the woman with twenty tabs open in her browser). You’ll get better results if you focus on one or two primary elements or techniques at a time.

For example, lately, I’ve been concentrating on dialogue (both because it’s something I’m working on myself and because I’m planning a series of blog posts on dialogue for sometime next year). I watch the ebb and flow of dialogue, taking note of what works and what doesn’t. What’s the effect–and why did the author intend it?

This isn’t to say, of course, that you can’t also take note of anything interesting, in any category, that reveals itself. But only consciously follow certain rabbits down their holes.

2. Arm Yourself With Highlighters and Pens

Jane Eyre Writer's Digest Annotated Classic K.M> WeilandThis is for serious studiers only. Seriously, I only do this one when I’m in full battle mode (e.g., like when I was dissecting Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, so I could write about its brilliant techniques in Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic).

This is where you’re going to want to divide your studying into a few more categories–one for each color of highlighter. Go through the book, highlighting appropriately, whenever you find an interesting passage. Write notes with abandon in the margins. Then, when you’ve finished, go through again and type up your notes, expanding on them to fully record your reactions and new knowledge.

I say this is only for serious studiers primarily because this is a fast track to interfering with reading-as-pure-pleasure (and also to making a mess of your paperbacks).

Jane Eyre Highlights

This is rigorous studying at its best and will require your full brain power. No reading-to-get-to-sleep when you’re doing this.

3. Break Down the Structure

The surest way to get a grasp on plot and story structure is by consciously breaking down the structure in books and movies–as I do regularly for the Story Structure Database. How do I do this?

Start with an easy shortcut: divide the total page count of a book or the total running time of a movie by eight. Why? Because the major structural moments happen at each eighth of the story:

1. Inciting Event (12%)

2. First Plot Point / End of the First Act (25%)

3. First Pinch Point (37%)

4. Midpoint / Halfway through the Second Act (50%)

5. Second Pinch Point (62%)

6. Third Plot Point / Beginning of Third Act (75%)

7. Climax (88%)

For movies, I use my handy dry-erase board notebook to note the approximate minute of each turning point, so I can easily watch the run time and take note of what’s happening.

NuBoard Story Structure Thor Dark World

For books, I use little Book Darts bookmarks to mark the appropriate page at each turning point.

Book Darts Patrick O'Brian Truelove

This way, I’m not totally adrift within the story. I can watch the clock or the page count and know to be on the watch for the respective structural moment roundabout there.

This is a fabulous way to grasp story structure as a whole and, just as importantly, to understand how the various structural elements can manifest in vastly different ways from story to story.

You can study my (and others’) many examples in the Story Structure Database. If you try it yourself, please share with us! The Story Structure Database is interactive and always open for submissions.

4. Examine Your Reactions

Whenever you finish a story, give yourself a moment before rushing off to the next thing. Just sit there and think about your reactions to what you just experienced. Ask yourself:

  • How did the story make you feel?
  • What did you like about it?
  • What did you dislike?
  • Do you think it was an objectively good story?
  • Did you dislike it anyway? Why?
  • Do you think it was an objectively problematic or even bad story?
  • Did you like it anyway? Why?

Within the answers to these questions lies your greatest opportunity for growth as a writer. If you can distill your often nebulous feelings about a story down into logical facts about what made you feel that way, you will then be able to add other authors’ effective weapons to your own arsenal.

I use this technique after every story I read or watch. It’s where I get the ideas for fully half the posts on this site.

5. Transcribe the Prose

This trick is especially useful if you’re trying to crack the code of, not just great storytelling, but great writing. What is it about some authors’ prose that makes it sing so effortlessly and powerfully? The whole point of great prose is that it’s flawless: we’re not supposed to think about it, we’re not supposed to see the cracks where the pieces are joined together. If we saw the cracks, that would defeat the whole purpose.

As a result, simply reading great prose isn’t always the most effective way to learn how to write awesome prose of your own. What you need to do is sit down with a notebook and pen and a favorite book–and start transcribing passages. I recommend doing this longhand, with an actual pen, since this will slow you down and force you to think about and absorb each word and punctuation choice.

Transcription of Favorite Authors K.M. Weiland

I used to do this every day, and it never failed to amaze me how it allowed me to suddenly see the building blocks the authors had used in crafting their prose. Their seemingly inimitable mastery of wordcraft was suddenly within my grasp. It was something I could learn–and that you can too!

Afraid Studying Will Ruin Your Reading? Don’t Be

Although you can learn from other authors, such as me, who break down stories and share what they’re learning in blogs and books, you’ll get more out of the experience by also doing it yourself. Start approaching your book reading and movie watching purposefully with an intent to logically identify and utilize the tools handed to you by authors you love.

But what if it ruins your reading and watching?

It’s true, it might. Some authors use these practices and find themselves growing hypecritical. But, frankly, it shouldn’t. The more I learn to identify how other authors are using the craft, the more I appreciate their stories. Give it a try. You’ll transform both your appreciation of stories in general and your own writing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What methods have you used to figure out how to study plot and character in your favorite stories? Tell me in the comments!

How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Excellent post as we approach New Year. I’ve never completed an in-depth analysis of a book I have read as you have clearly done, but I do keep electronic notes relating to e-books I have read. I either highlight the text or copy and paste examples of the devices authors use into may notes app. I’ve just read John Fowles’ ‘The Magus,’ and I wouldn’t know how to conduct a full analysis on such a complex book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Just think how complicated it must have been to write then! If we can get our heads around other people’s complicated stories, it’s a step toward being able to handle complex stories of our own.

  2. Was thinking about this.
    “Osmosis” means to absorb without effort. What you suggest here, Katie, is to break down every element in the story. Not exactly osmosis.
    MY problem today is that I can no longer read fiction – or ANYTHING, for that matter – without analysing it. For me, this has taken the joy out of reading.
    I strongly urge innocent, natural writers to keep it innocent and natural. Study structure, yes. Break it down, no. If you are driven to write for the sake of writing, you will get there in good time, naturally.
    My opinion only.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think it definitely depends on the person. It’s true I’ve grown more aware and more selective in my reading, but I’ve never reached a point where the awareness of the craft has interfered with my ability to enjoy a good story. In part, I think a forgiving attitude is necessary in achieving this. You see the faults in a book, but you don’t hang onto them or resent them.

    • I relate, Lyn, because I’m the editor of an outdoor magazine. But, when reading a novel, I allow my subconscious to filter the story line and alert my conscious mind to specifics such as the things K.M. is talking about. Allowing perfectionism to take over will only create stress.

      • Hi Nolan
        I think you put the finger on part of my resistance. I call it the ‘paint-by-numbers’ game, in which I feel that I’m producing a mechanical exercise if I start analysing the percent points of all these turning moments in a novel, both in writing and in reading.
        As a writer of historicals, I study the historical timeline to develop my story. The plot-points happen naturally. When the first draft is done, I start to edit for drama. It doesn’t usually take much editing. As for structure, it falls where it falls. There is always a heightened climax toward the end – we all know that from the first time we write.
        So yes, I do resist. I think Katie is a marvel, however, in conveying structural advice to the new writer. I never had that advice while ‘growing up’.
        🙂 🙂 🙂

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        As always, I adamantly agree with the necessity of each author finding the creative process that works for him. Lyn writes wonderful books and has obviously found a system that works well for her without going full-blown conscious awareness with structure. But I would like to point out that story structure (or outlines or character arcs) are only paint-by-numbers if you believe they are. I look at all of these things as simple guidelines by which to make sure my creativity is on track to create the strongest book possible out of my story ideas. I’ve never felt constrained by it. As a matter of fact, I find structure incredibly liberating. My awareness of structure takes much of the anxiety out of writing; I *know* when I’m track and I *know* what’s going wrong when I’m not. Instead of worrying about all that stuff, I’m free to just let my creativity roll.

        • Katie, as you probably know, I wrote the Schellendorf series before really addressing the idea of ‘structure’.
          Now that I have a firmer knowledge of structure (through your books on structure), I find it inhibits my writing.
          Now I must concentrate on NOT thinking about structure until the first draft is complete. Only in the second draft do I observe it.
          So it works differently for each of us.
          I agree – and am glad you emphasised it here – that structure is a guideline, not a rule. We ought not to allow anything to impose rigidity upon a story line.

  3. I like to study structure in books (movies are harder when I can’t check the current running time) loosely. I’ll take one of my favorite books, take the total page number, work out whatever plot point I want, and go from there. It’s interesting to see stories that I loved that are a little too early or a little too late in their timing, but I adore them (and vice-versa). It helps remind me to not get too hung up on structure in my WIPs while I’m in the early stages, and to let myself tell the story freely.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Timing is usually a little more fluid in books in comparison to movies–usually simply because books are so much longer and have more room to play around in. But most movies you can time down to the minute.

  4. Rick Presley says:

    One of the ways I found to ease into this practice is to argue with reviews, particularly reviews that critique substantive aspects of the book or movie plot. Writing a counter-review (Goodreads is a great place to practice this) forces you to frame arguments succinctly and coherently. Don’t be a troll and don’t let the trolls discourage you. Once you get practice there, the in-depth analysis described here is much easier.

  5. Similar to Tom, I keep notes in ebooks as I read. I make a note whenever a new character is introduced, then update it as new details emerge (physical appearance, relationships, skills, etc.). I make a note at the end of each chapter about the major events/revelations that happened, and insert thoughts about quality of writing/voice/style wherever I feel impressed. Once the book is completed I can go back through the notes to determine major plot points, foreshadowing, etc.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I love Scrivener for this. Its keywords function is especially handy, since it helps me chart which characters/settings/whatever are present in which scenes.

  6. This is one of my favorite posts ever! I am wanting to dig in and get really serious, and I think these suggestions will be a great start.

  7. I like your ending, while I was reading this, I kept thinking that if I read a book in this way, looking for plot points and such, it’s going to spoil my enjoyment of the book. Films are much easier for me this way. When I was in the service, when watching a war movie with my civilian friends, I used to amuse/drive them mad by pointing out all the things the characters were doing wrong militarily. So, film watching would be the better alternative for me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Every reader has a point they can’t cross without destroying suspension of disbelief. But if you can learn to balance the analytical mindset with the pure enjoyment, everything gets better all the way around.

  8. Excellent post as I have never completed an in-depth analysis of a book I have read. This was interesting and helpful. I will have to give this a real world try at home. I need to study how other writers do what they do. It will help me with mine. Great suggestion!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Writing is all about finding works for us. But the best way to do that is to study what works for others. Plus it’s fun!

  9. Hi everybody!

    I’m sure this topic will vary from person to person depending on what your intentions are. I say it’s AWESOME, and especially appropriate before the first 100 book reading challenge kicks off.

    I appreciate the Stephen King quote coupled with an actionable plan to make it pratical. We know we should be reading but it’s good to have a game plan in the process. I’m very analytical anyways so the structure breakdown works for me. And the encouraging part is, I’ve already been practicing! Whew hew!

    I was watching Astroboy recently with the basic elements of the story premise in my head and some of the 3 act structure. Doing the same with the book I’m reading right now and feeling like I’m getting more out of the book than I normally would. As one is learning the craft of writing and story telling, studying the structure of story is essential.

    And KM, I love your battle mode study approach! Keep your game face on sister! I look forward to analyzing the books on my list for the year beginning with STORMING. Yes. A dieselpunk adventure novel. I need adventure in my life.

    Have fun.

    Benjamin

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ll be posting my own analysis of the structure I used in Storming in the Database soon. You can compare your findings after you’ve finished it.

  10. Fascinating way to analyze story, KM! I remember reading Susan Wiggs’ telling how she wrote her first book… she picked up a novel she’d just read & loved, opened it, and page by page, wrote a novel, putting in the elements, in order to learn about the structure, pacing, events, etc. It was rather awful, but she learned a great deal in doing that. I’m off to find more highlighters now. And, oh, isn’t it great fun to mark up a book?? The first time I did it shocked me, the second time, it was easy.
    Thanks so much for sharing your practical helpful tips for writers… Much appreciated.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, I have to admit I love just flipping back through the books I’ve marked up. The pages are so pretty!

  11. No two books are the same. This gives us a great opportunity to learn.

    My question is, if the reader likes the story as a whole should we place too much emphasis on one aspect? The book I’m reading now has a great story even though halfway through the story the protagonist doesn’t really stick out. Actually the protagonist could be a couple different people or group of good guys. But having said that, the writing is excellent and the story is really starting to gel.

    If anyone has thoughts on this please speak your mind.

    Benjamin

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The perfect book will be perfect in every area: plot, characters, conflict. It will also be perfectly balanced.

      But no book is perfect.

      There’s always going to be some piece that doesn’t quite work or isn’t quite balanced. I would venture to say *every* great story has at least one lame foot that’s being pulled along simply because the rest of the book is so strong. The key, as authors, is to write at least some of the story’s elements so brilliantly that readers forgive us for the parts that don’t quite work.

      • I’m not certain that I can visualise the average reader sitting there analysing plot points and saying to him/herself, “Oops , THAT plot point comes fifty pages too late.”

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Definitely not. I find it’s more of an instinctive thing. In looking back on stories I’ve experienced prior to any conscious understanding of structure, it’s interesting to now apply critical knowledge and realize that, often, the instinctive, unconscious reason for my reactions had to do with how well the story was paced and structured.

  12. Thank you for today’s post. Yes, I’ll be sure to study the prose of the many books I read. It really helps to be consciously aware of the author’s purpose in writing the story as well as how s/he present it to his/her readers.

    I personally have a strong liking for Omniscient POV. This is my favorite POV that I hope to have mastered in the next years to come (if possible, in the next three years).

    The way the story is told through this POV is so beautiful, but as much potential as it has, the skill of the author actually needs to be on par in using it.

    I also find it helpful to consciously wait for “The Line” that authors often inject in their works. Often I find it when the sentence, or the meaning behind the words, grabs me as a reader and forces me to think and take notice of it’s remarkable nature.

    Most do it whenever they want to, but I usually find this when the emotions are high (as imagined by the author) so that s/he can strategically impact the reader. I hope to do the same one day. Actually, according to my anti-procrastinating books, I better start ASAP. This literally means now. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds like you’re already consciously aware of a lot of this!

      • Thanks. I was wondering why whenever I read stories, I tend to be extremely selective of what I read. Turns out that I have a method of choosing books that definitely works to my advantage both as a writer and a reader.

        I love books that have elegant, eloquent and beautiful prose. My favorites are the ones that have an authentic feel of intelligence about them.

        But that doesn’t’ mean I don’t read outside of these stories. I’ll definitely read something “remarkable.”

        I’ll share one of my secret guilty pleasures. I love R.L. Stine’s works particularly, Goosebumps.

  13. I was watching Doctor Zhivago on TV yesterday. Original version.
    Hmm.
    Try analysing THAT for structure. The doctor and Lara don’t even meet until almost halfway through the movie. Yes, parallel story structure. And then in the end it just sort of fizzles out, and we’re left wondering what exactly happened to the protagonist(s).
    Yet celebrated as both a great book and a great movie.
    Go figure.
    But here’s the thing. With a great movie AND a great novel, we forget to analyse, we sink into the moment.
    I haven’t bumped into too many of those recently.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      From a structural perspective, the Midpoint is actually a stellar moment for a major occurrence such as that. I’ve yet to see the movie, but I’d bet a lot that it adheres perfectly to structural requirements.

  14. This is very helpful. As far as highlighters are concerned I’m locked and loaded. A fresh pack of five unopened. Only problem is, I almost exclusively read ebooks.

    I’ve yet to dabble around the story structure database. Sounds pretty cool. Probably something Batman would have for solving crimes in Gotham city.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ah, but the awesome thing about e-readers is that the highlighting options are vast! Even better, you can email yourself your highlights or access them in the cloud, so you don’t have to type anything up.

  15. I have two degrees in literary analysis, I’m a professional writer, I’ve worked as an editor, and I teach writing. If anyone has an super-critic in their head, I do.

    Years ago, I realized I could never shut off the critic in the head, but I have learned to keep her separate from me, the reader. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I learned to do it.

    About the only time my super-critic takes over is when a book is so flawed I continue to read it like an autopsy of what can go wrong and why. Otherwise, I’d stop reading entirely.

    Reading really good writers helps. Reading what you love helps. Reading outside your genre helps.

    Mainly, though, you simply have to learn to ignore the critic sitting in the corner of your brain taking notes the same way you focus on one conversation in a room full of conversations.

    As to copying prose, be certain to use current prose as your example of what works, NOT older works. Narrative has changed over the years, and current narrative is very different from even twenty years ago. Also, pick prose in the type of book you want to write. Science fiction, for example, has a very different narrative style than mystery or romance.

    With a little research and some careful search engine work, you can find good articles on plot structure and character arcs. Some are genre specific which is quite helpful. Reading and learning points of plot structure and character arcs makes spotting them much easier when you read.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great points! Thanks for chiming in. And I would voice agreement to your comments about the omnipresence of the inner critic in my head. She’s always there, but I welcome her presence as a “fellow book lover.” She only gets out of control when a book is justifiably and unforgivably bad.

  16. Thank you, Katie! This is so helpful and I’m so excited now!

    I did try the story structure method once, and it was an eye opener.

    I can definitely understand why some people don’t like to study, it can expose the magic behind what really happens when you write a story. But I think that’s only if you let it. There will always be something bigger, more baffling around the corner.

    Thanks again!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ve actually been very resistant to “hacking apart” favorite stories in the past. But working on Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic was tremendously eye-opening. I ripped that book apart, analyzed it backwards and forwards, and I emerged liking it even better than I did before I started. Good stories can stand up to the pressure.

      But it’s important to approach the “hacking” with an attitude of humility and grace. We’re there to learn, not to pointlessly criticize.

  17. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    I bet lawyers are pretty productive.

  18. Excellent advice as always, especially # 3 “Break Down the Structure” with the percents. I used to consider myself a discovery writer only, but more and more, I find that planning out a bit beforehand and putting a little more thought into the structure of the plot can work wonders with my writing.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m all about structure and planning, as you can probably tell. Even just a little of it can make a big difference in managing the project down the line.

  19. This post has been a lot of things for me thus far. It’s been enlightening, encouraging, educational, mystifying and daunting all wrapped into one giant burrito. I’ll try not to choke on it. You can tell we had taco bell tonight. Except for me, I had Wendy’s.

    Love you guys! You’re all awesome.

    Keep reading, writing, posting, enjoying!

  20. Great read. Thank you for the advice.

  21. Kinza Sheikh says:

    Aside from the last one, I haven’t tried almost anything.
    And the last one has a funny story. In my childhood, my mother would make me write other novels to have fun while improvising in my writing. Only she thought handwriting, 😉
    Who knew it can also work in the actual writing.

  22. My husband has pointed out that I’m doing 3 without thinking about it (not intentionally anyway). He claims my comments during movie-watching together is starting to annoy him, so I try to not talk about story structure until it’s finished.

    Whole family went to watch Star Wars: the Force Awakens. We didn’t talk during (of course) but I caught myself thinking things like “oh, that must have been the Midpoint, so we’re halfway”…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah. Same here. BTW, I did my Story Structure Database analysis of The Force Awakens. It’s right here, if you’re interested.

      • Thanks! I love your Story Structure Database, it really helps me understand the structural points.
        And wow, to me this just proves that you can get the structure right but still miss on other things – one thing that REALLY bothered me in this movie was the pacing – it was too fast, too full, and didn’t leave enough time for epicness – those moments when there’s a “breather”, or a setup shot, or whatever where John Williams’ music takes you up and sweeps you away. (There were reaction moments and setups, but they ALWAYS seemed hurried.)
        I also had problems with the placement of reveals. I thought we found out about Kylo Ren’s identity too soon (no time to make it at least a little bit of a mystery), and his obsession with a certain person was handled a little off-handedly – a missed opportunity for some character depth, I thought. Also a few things that seemed out of character and illogical and too much Deus Ex (I won’t say what to avoid spoilers.)
        It was fun enough to watch, but I’m sorry to say I was rather disappointed.

        • I do agree about the pacing and characterization … but since when did Star Wards be great on those parts? I was mostly happy that it could pull me in (something episode 1-3 didn’t quite do) and that it brought back the feeling of episode 4, which I love.

          • Hihi. Cute typo. Star Wards?
            The beginning was fantastic, no arguments there. It really pulled me in- the rest just didn’t hold up for me. And while I grant that – no, not characterisation per se, but maybe character depth – was a little lacking in E IV (Oh, Ben’s dead. Hey, X-wings! Wait, didn’t Leia lose an ENTIRE PLANET?), somehow you still felt swept away by the whole thing, rather than swept along from one explosion to the next.
            Episodes I-III have their own problems (Haydn Christiansen, anyone? And a few other things…), but they still had that epic feel to them that I missed in Force Awakens. (This is obviously subjective.) And most of what happened made logical sense (see the previous blog on coincidences), apart from the fact that in that highly technological environment, never mind the Force, no one realized Padma was carrying twins.
            As to feeling like Episode 4 – well, it kinda IS. The McGuffin is – um, how are we handling spoilers here? How about this:
            SPOILER ALERT! STOP READING!

            The McGuffin is information stored in a droid that crash-lands on a desert planet. It’s found by a force-sensitive with a mysterious past who ends up owning a lightsaber (the exact same one, in fact, with no explanation as to how it got there. Talk about coinkydinks.). There is a seriously evil dude in a mask who answers to an even more seriously evil dude who looks like he’s been mummified (I know we only see the Emperor in Ep V, but still) and an enormous, planet-slaying machine (only this time it does three for the price of one); with some internal tension between the Force faction and the technological faction within the “Empire”. Now you add a dash of Eps. V and VI with the father-son confrontation (only with a twist), a generator that needs to be taken down “planetside” so the assault on the planet-killer can succeed (at least it wasn’t an exhaust port)…. You get the picture.

            END OF SPOILER
            This said, I LIKED all the new elements they brought in, such as Finn. What a great character! And BB-8 is adorable – though nothing can replace R2 in my heart for sheer awesomeness (he’s the real hero of the saga, you know. No, really. Think about it.) I actually really liked the basic premise, I thought the story in of itself, in its core elements, was a good one. I just truly think they botched up the execution. I could give lots of examples – but I think I might be lynched if I put up any more spoilers 😉 Willing to discuss in a more appropriate forum, though.
            Or not. I’m willing to leave those who loved it their fan tingles. 😀

            Getting back to the actual subject of the blog: I have scribbled in and even highlighted research material (you should see my copy of “Kingship and the Gods”) but NOTHING in the world could make me highlight a novel. I’m an obssessive re-reader. I would die if I opened that poor, mistreated novel again.
            I suppose I could get a second copy of certain specific works, but… you know… space – the final frontier. Our house is so full of books already we really don’t know where to put the baby. And neither my husband nor I like reading with e-readers (though it would be a great solution to the problem, wouldn’t it?)

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Force Awakens definitely isn’t perfect, but I took the remixed elements to be a deliberate homage to the original movie, and it totally worked for me. If they rip Empire in the same way in the next movie, that’ll be a different story though.

            And I hear you on messing up your favorite paperbacks. One thing I failed to mention is that I purchase cheap paperback editions for my highlighting. I never use treasured copies.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I agree, but considering the vast number of responsibilities this film had to fulfill, I’m willing to forgive its pacing problems. Hopefully, they’ll get them fixed in a more introspective sequel. I also agree about the timing of the reveal, but I think they placed it that way so that 1) they weren’t ripping *too much* off the Darth Vader reveal in Empire, and 2) so they could get the ending they wanted for this movie.

    • Kinza Sheikh says:

      My brother actually enjoy my analysis. He says, breaking them down into pieces is actually more fun. 😀

  23. Hmmm! I enjoyed this post very much. I find it’s something I’ve done for years now, minus the highlighters and not so rigidly. I still enjoy reading, but find it difficult to read bad writing. Where I used to stick with any book till the end, no matter what, I find now that I can’t. It just feels like a waste of precious writing time to read bad writing. Perhaps if I got out the highlighters to highlight what’s wrong instead of what’s right?
    Anyway, thank you for an interesting post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Actually, that’s a great exercise! There are (at least) 10 ways of doing something wrong for every way there is to do it right. I bet I learn more from other authors’ mistakes than I do from their moments of brilliance.

  24. Have you discovered L-Space?

  25. I intially discovered your blog looking to structure a better written story. Today I’m using this article and your book on the topic of outlining, to plan and structure my 2016 personally and professionally. The voice of the teacher and coach sitting behind your writing is as enticing as ever.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Excellent! Those are the kinds of New Year’s goals that actually see accomplishment. I wish you all the best!

  26. Jessica Renfro says:

    I’ve been looking all over for a post like this! I’m a visual learner so I think it would be helpful if I studied one of my favorite novels to see how the author applies the three act structure.

    P.S. Your website is so helpful! You explain structure in a way that’s easily understandable.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m so glad you’re finding the site useful! I’m a visual learner myself, so I love the whole experience of color-coding notes and such while studying books.

  27. I absolutely love this post. I come back to it again and again. <3

Trackbacks

  1. […] How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps K M Weiland Helping Writer&#8… […]

  2. […] Weiland shares her five step plan to analyze your favourite books (A.K.A. read like a […]

  3. […] How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps […]

  4. […] How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories – I will always fail at one of the reading tips mentioned in the previous link — Skim — because I read not to escape, but to study the craft. At least most of the time. Anyone who browses my Goodreads shelves will find some cheap thrills tucked amongst the classics and bestsellers. That said, I mentioned K.M. Weiland’s books in my previous post and this blog post of hers has some great actionable tips for getting the most out of your reading. I’ve employed some of these techniques in analyzing other books this past year and will be modifying my approach to include some of her tips here. If you’re a student of storycraft, then you really ought to be following her blog. […]

  5. […] before how we can use examples to learn beat sheets, and K.M. Weiland has a post about the ways we can analyze other stories to learn more about storytelling. In her post, she talks about marking up print books, but the process can be even easier if we use […]

  6. […] Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is and How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps by K.M. […]

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