Many years ago on a car trip, I checked out a book on tape from the library called Conspiracy in Death, by JD Robb. I loved the story and characters. Upon my return home, I discovered that romance novelist Nora Roberts was in fact, J.D. Robb.
I fell in love with the In Death series. I kept reading them and while the stories are similar (duh- it’s a murder series), each book was just as good as the last. When I began writing seriously, I decided to study the masters. As a lover of the J.D. Robb books, I decided to start from page one, book one. I am currently on book 7.5. I only discovered that Robb penned several .5 novellas and am so glad I have they are great. While reading the books this time I am more critical in my reading. I am looking for what makes this series so wildly successful. (There are over 45 books in this series at the time of this post).
I have had several ask me why I am re-reading all these books? I am doing this to better my writing. The truth is no matter how many books you have published or not published, you can always learn from others. I believe this and so I am choosing to study the masters.
May I suggest you find an author that you love reading and dig into their writing, not to copy it but to learn from it. Look at the aspects of those character’s you love and how the author developed them. Try and pay attention and take notes. Here are a few things I look for as I am re-reading through the In Death books by J.D. Robb:
- How does this character change over the book? Include physical and mental characteristics. (Eve, Roake, Peabody, McNabb, Feeney etc)
- Look for word pictures, what did the author do to make those words resonate with you?
- Pay attention to how must information is shared in descriptions. You may be surprised to discover that the author allowed you to fill in many of the gaps.
- Watch the dialogue. How much or little does your main character say or not say?
- How does the author use sentence length and dialogue to keep pace?
- Watch sub-plots, how much time does the author spend on them? Sometimes they can overtake the plot, especially with the romance aspect when it is a sub-plot.
- Look at speech tags. When and how are they used?
Most importantly, take time to look for themes and motifs. Write an analysis of each book you have read, think about how it works and why YOU were drawn to it.
Interestingly, I never considered myself a romance reader, but knowing I loved J.D. Robb books so much I started looking into Nora Roberts other writing and have found I am also a fan of her “romance” books. She is really an incredible author. I have learned a great deal studying this master of the written word.