Read it, Read it a Second Time
To learn how a skilled author puts together a novel, don’t just read a novel once -- go deeper. Sure, read the STORY the first time, but then read the novel again for a deeper understanding of the author’s technique. For example, in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, most people get the main theme of prejudice against the accused black man, Tom Robinson. They might even see a parallel of Scout, Jem and Dill’s prejudice against the mysterious recluse Boo (Arthur) Radley. On a second read, look closer. Notice how virtually every scene has something to do with one type of person having something against another type of person – examples of intolerance, injustice, or misunderstanding. The whites look down on other whites that are not from their county, or if they accept welfare, if their history is not up to snuff, or if they were on the wrong side in the Civil War. Scout’s teacher doesn’t understand the plight of the poor white families, and when her teacher talks about the horror of the Jews in Nazi Germany, we find out that she has her own prejudice against blacks. Townsfolk are prejudiced of the mixed race family, and their children. The white women’s missionary guild looks down on the poor backward people of Africa, and they also look down on other white women who don’t conform to their statndards. Even some of the black people are against allowing the white children in their church. It seems like everyone has some prejudice. And yet, Atticus, Calpurnia, and a few others stand out as trying to accept people for who they are. In all of it, Scout is trying to find her way in life – to grow up, but not to grow up with all of the flaws she sees in the people around her. Her character arc takes her on a journey where she will grow up with a view of people that allows her to “walk around in their skins” – that is, to understand the issues different people have in their own quest for happiness and meaning in life. The book doesn’t imply that there are no evil people. The message is not that everyone and anyone can do as they please. It is that we should not be too quick to judge others simply because they are different. (Obviously there is a lot more to the book than I’ve mentioned here – I’m only pointing out the well-conceived characterization in the story.) Thus, as you read To Kill a Mockingbird the second (or third) time – peer deeper and deeper into the author’s mind to grasp what she must have gone through in her many drafts of the book to create the well thought out characters and situations that make up the story. Do this same exercise with any other successful book that you love – read it for pleasure. Read it second time to dissect it and discover why and how the story was constructed. This can be a powerful tool for any author – to learn the tools, techniques, and story construction elements used by master novelists.
For information on my latest story please go to www.alanelliott.com/takeover. This short story, Takeover: A Writer’s Nightmare, is a romp through the messed-up brain of a creative writer that takes you on a bumpy joy ride with a twisted ending.