How to Read Novels Like a Novelist (RNLN): How a Craft Book Can Influence Reading a Novel

RNLN by Maria L. Berg 2023

The concept of this series of posts is to stop reading craft books, learning from other writers’ chosen examples, and learn from novels, choosing my own examples. However, I had one craft book from the library that I hadn’t finished, Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee. It’s very good, and I noticed examples of some of the things I read in the book while I read this week’s novel, Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey, as a novelist.

Choosing the Novels

Though I have lists of books and somewhat of a plan for an order of what I would like to read and study, I am already learning the importance of being flexible. One of the main issues for my reading list is availability. My hold on Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng became available so A Widow for One Year by John Irving is getting pushed back another week.

I signed up for the second section of the Wesleyan University course “The Modern and The Post Modern” on The novel for the that section is To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I don’t think I’ve read it, so I’m excited to get to that one after Irving.

Reading Novels Like a Novelist (RNLN)

So this week I’ll be focusing on what I’m learning from Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee. It covers a lot more than spoken dialogue. He explores dialogue as three modes of talk: said to others, said to oneself, and said to the reader or audience. He says the three functions of dialogue are Exposition, Characterization, and Action. As you can see, his study of dialogue covers all the aspects of a novel.

Though the book covers more that just dialogue in the traditional sense of quoted speech between characters, I thought I would also focus in on the questions from my original list that have to do with dialogue:

What is the first line of dialogue?
What is the main character’s first line of dialogue?
Did it reveal the main character’s main concern?
Did it foreshadow what was to come?
Does it showcase the character’s personality?
Do I like this first line of dialogue?
How many words is it?
Does it have a surface meaning and a deeper one?

Does the dialogue reveal character, support the plot, hit the emotional theme, escalate the tension?
Does the main character have a unique voice/way of speaking?
How can I apply what I like to my own work?

Is the dialogue in conflict?
Does it further characterizations?
Does it further the story?
Is it fresh and colorful?

Through this exploration, I will hopefully have a whole new list of questions inspired by McKee’s book.

The way Dialogue influenced my RNLN got me wondering if other craft books will influence my reading as well. One of my main goals for this project is to learn how to evoke emotion in the reader, so I think I’ll re-read my copy of The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass while I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng to see if the craft book helps me focus on finding useful examples in the text that will help me improve my writing.

Learning to Evoke Emotion by Maria L. Berg 2023

It’s All Coming Together

I keep talking about enjoying the synergy of my studies, but this week’s serendipity was pretty funny. Last week I mentioned the fun fact that Henry Mancini wrote the theme song for Remington Steele which I’ve been enjoying on Amazon Prime Video. I didn’t realize when I chose Unspeakable Things for RNLN that it was set in the eighties and went a little nuts with the pop culture references mentioning Remington Steele many times. 😄

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