Mapping out books to discover patterns

Posted by Bonnie Marlewski-Probert on 3/15/2018 to Join Me On My Journey

OK, so I made  a few mistakes along the way while doing my research. FIRST MISTAKE: I tried to find a "formula" in four (stand alone) books that I read and couldn't find any, so, I asked the RWA (Romance Writer's of America) group that I joined and was told that Nora Roberts doesn't have a formula in any of her stand-alone books BUT that I might have better luck in her series. OK, so I wasted a boatload of time reading and studying four books and came up with nothing. *NOTE: I mentioned in a previous blog post that even if you are looking for "X" and you end up finding "Y" instead, that is still successful since you will eventually need "Y". That's what happened to me. I didn't find a formula in the stand-alone books but I did learn a boatload about writing dialog.

OK, because I'm the NEWBIE and the point of this blog is to share MY mistakes with you so YOU don't have to make the same ones, here is what I learned about dialog. Because I come from a non-fiction background where you are SUPPOSED to TELL the reader things, I added "he said." or "she said" after every line of dialog so the reader would have no doubt about who was speaking. WRONG. That was a rookie mistake. The masters don't TELL the reader who is speaking, they SHOW the reader who is speaking by replacing "he said" or "she said" with some action the speaker is taking. Like this...Bob leaned his hip against the kitchen counter as his son entered the room, "it's time to take the dog out." It was clear by the look on his son's face that he wasn't happy about things.... In this exchange, there is no need to TELL the reader who's speaking. By their actions, the reader is SHOWN who the speaker is and the result is better.

OK, so on to the mapping exercise. Armed with the intel from the RWA members, that led me to pick up a four-book series that NR had written and I read and mapped out those four books and yes, there was a bit of a pattern. It is not written in stone OF COURSE and it does vary from book to book, but it was at least a guide for the NEWBIE to get me started and for that, I will always be grateful to Nora Roberts, THE MASTER- THE YODA (in my book)!

The mapping process took me more than a week (you have to read all four books and then go back page by page to fill in the spread sheet. If you want a copy of my spreadsheet that I created to map out the four books, shoot me a note to [email protected] and I'll e-mail it to you. As I mentioned earlier, while it is not a solid formula, there are enough similarities that "I" was able to figure out some basics (how many foreplay or sex scenes, how early should these show up in the book, how many conflicts/challenges do the main characters face, etc., etc). Of course, this can vary from author to author but, as I mentioned in an early blog post, I'm studying folks that "I" consider to be the MASTERS of the craft, based on book sales. 

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