Tuesday, January 15, 2013

As a Writer You Should Have Paid Attention in Math

I'm new to this blog and am tonight staring down one heck of a rabbit-hole-disguised-as-deadline. Thanks for allowing me to disengage myself from my non-fiction work and return to a technique I use in fiction writing.

Certainly time is always pressing and I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to, but I always use reading as a writing tool.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion talked about how John Gregory Dunne would often read a novel several times “to see how it worked.” When I was working on my novel, I turned to my favorite in the middle grade-YA genre, Missing May by Cynthia Rylant, and charted the book out on a graph.

Along the y axis was the word count by chapter; the x axis noted where the various plot points occurred, when characters were introduced….the whole arc of the plot. It served as an invaluable road map because I was, and still am, a novice at plot development for anything other than a short story. I have a greater appreciation for Rylant’s craft and a graph of Missing May that is real purdy.

But, seriously, read the 'good ones.' Do this for a recent adult novel like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and learn how
and when a real pro inserts plot points.

Mary-Margaret Simpson writes for gardening and outdoor magazines as well as for higher education. And if you can make any sense of that, please let her know.


  1. Reading a lot in various different genres is very important for a writer Especially reading out of genre. Now as for this analysing - this is fascinating. Never thought of that.


  2. Mary-Margaret, analyzing classics and recent traditionally published books is a good way to learn what makes them tick - what works and what doesn't. Good advice, thanks for sharing.

  3. Plotting out a favourite novel in a graph sounds like an excellent way to learn what works and what doesn't.

  4. Welcome, Mary Margaret and thank you for your advice!

  5. Thanks everyone! I just learned that there's software available that does this sort of thing, at a price (of course). It's called Aeon Timeline and is available through scribblecode.com

    I know nothing about it and my only caution would be a) spending money; b) getting so caught up with the software that you actually never actually WRITE.


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