Strictly speaking the old insult popularized in Ferris Bueller's Day Off isn't true: compressing a lump of coal (anally or no) cannot make a diamond. Yes, they both contain carbon, but mother nature made diamonds and your charcoal ain't gonna cut it. Still, the phrase refers to a mindset you should get into as we enter the final editing/beginning marketing stage of your novel. It's time to get Type A!






First off, do you own Mortimer J. Adler's How To Read A Book? If you don't, please buy it or check it out from the library and read it. It teaches you to be an active reader and every writer should have this in their repertoire of knowledge. You are a writer which makes you different than a reader. Oh, you're a bookworm, you have to be to be a good writer, but you can't be an herbivore, you must be a carnivorous reader, and Adler will show you how. A good book will make you lose yourself in its world, a great book will do that and teach you about the human condition, and a perfect book will do all that and teach you how to write. Adler will show you how to read a book to glean that information and help you choose what books can do that.



Pictured: Not Irony



This is important because you are on a break. You've written, you've edited, you've critiqued, and now it's time to do the final edit and formatting so you can sell that book. Bear with me here, but this is where you as an artist have to start thinking like a business person. You love your work (or you should) and metaphorically you could make sweet sweet love to it. Now we gotta put it out on the corner and let it make money, so you have to make sure it's the best-looking most-talented ho on the block.

To begin to learn how to do that you need to read two books in your genre. Make them two of the most critically-acclaimed, best-selling, or most beloved. Read them actively! Take notes, and I'll show you what to note. But if you don't know the top two books in your genre are, see the supplement here.


Stay with me, it won't be this bad I promise




Now that you have selected your books, I want you to read them actively, even if you've read them so many times you have them memorized. Here is what you need to do to analyze them:

  1. Make a conflict outline for them. As you go, write down the internal and external conflicts that arise (simply write down short sentences)
  2. Make a note of where chapters end. I hate to say this, but if you choose a book and chapters end in the middle of a scene, and no internal or external conflict is noted, you have chosen a bad book and disregard it
  3. Note if it follows the hero's journey and section off your conflict outline into those sections
  4. Note the pacing according to your genre (see the supplement for the genre rules of pacing sections)
  5. Note character development if it does not follow the hero's journey, simply mark a note whenever you see the protagonist(s) grow
  6. Note placement of the climax of the story in relation to the end

Make sure to do these six steps for each book. Then sit down and compare the books with these vectors. You will see commonalities, and that's the main goal. We'll get there in a second, but first let's break down each step.



Once we break it down it'll be easier, I promise




Make a conflict outline: If you've followed along you made a conflict outline for your own story. If not, please go review it now. You'll want to note only major internal and external conflict (otherwise you'll get carpal tunnel). However, you may note chapters often end on minor internal or external conflict. If that is the case, note only those minor instances where a chapter is ending. In short one easy way to spot the difference between a fast-paced story and a slower burn is fast-paced stories end on major external/internal conflict, slower stories end on minor conflict, and crap stories no one will remember in twenty years end randomly, usually by word count.

Make note of where chapters end: This is built in to your first step but it is very important. Our brains are built to more easily remember the beginning and ending of a passage of prose and so the start and end of a chapter need to have the most impact and punch. That's what the brain remembers, and a good or great book maximizes that effect.

Note if it follows the hero's journey: It may shock you but the hero's journey is not just for Conan The Barbarian style epics. Douglas Adams' sci-fi The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy is a beloved classic that will stand the test of time because our feckless protagonist Arthur follows the hero's journey. You may find the difference between a good and great book (as defined earlier) is the application of these nine or twelve steps and you need to be able to see where they occur. If it does not, fear not, we'll cover that shortly.

Note the pacing according to your genre: Every genre follows some basic rules, you just need to be able to see them clearly. Keep in mind the difference between a good book and a great one is often bending or breaking the rules. Let's use Adams again, because his story of Arthur Dent's adventures employ the rules of science-fiction, fantasy, and comedy which are all unique. He mashed them together and we have literary gold. AN IMPORTANT NOTE: if you're writing your book to become a screenplay, DO NOT FOLLOW THE RULES OF MORE THAN ONE GENRE. Just look at film attempts of Arthur Dent's epic. Film follows different rules, and film rules are static and hard while literary rules flow. To see the difference you may want to select your two books as one that never became film and one that became a successful film. However, if you're writing with film in mind, you should probably study screenwriting before novel writing. it's a different beast.

Note character development that doesn't follow the hero's journey: You should see the protagonist(s) develop in a pattern similar to the genre pacing. Often character development is the hinge pacing relies on when there is no twelve-step journey. Here a lame book let's development follow the pacing, a good book lets the pacing follow development, and a a great book lets the development and pacing happen independently, but manages to time them together. Learn the difference!

Note placement of the climax: When you have twelve steps this one is easy, as it's the second-to-last installment of the story. Without the twelve steps it's a bit murkier, but a good or great book will still place it as the penultimate step. A book can get away with having it be third-to-last if there are two mysteries or developed subplots, but you will see there that at least one of the sub-plots will have a climax that is penultimate. Bad books let the climax happen early and so you are left hanging on, reading all this exposition about what comes next when that sense of yearning excitement has died.



If you still feel like this YOU DIDN'T READ ADLER! GO READ ADLER!




Now that you have your notes from both books, you need to compare and contrast. Look at what is the same in both books. It won't be everything, but what is the same in your notes on both books should be in your book. This is what readers want, ergo publishers, ergo agents.

Now...what if your book doesn't have that? Frankly, your critique readers should have spotted that if so. If they didn't, well...fist off you need new critique readers. And you have to go back and do content editing. Frankly, if you followed the steps outlined in Writing 101 and 102 you won't have this problem, but it does crop up.

Simply take your notes on what both books you read have in common, take the outline for your book, and edit the outline until you have those elements. This may mean deleting some scenes or writing new ones, or moving them around. Not it all on your outline (keep the passages you must delete, just strike them through like this) and then get to editing your work. If you must do that, you may want to find a new critique partner and send it off to them for review.



This is you, if you had to repeat the last two steps. It's also me if you did, because you haven;t been following along




This is the final check for format and this step also gives you the tools for our next steps which will be with an eye towards marketing. The next lesson will cover using this information to create chapters. You better not have chapters yet, just breaks marked with three asterisks (***)!

Good luck, happy reading, and get into the Type A mindset because you're about to ninja-up your manuscript.