How to deconstruct a novel to write your own

I started writing the draft of my second fiction novel before I finished editing my first – I just couldn’t wait to get started! I was inspired by reading ‘The Rumour’ by Lesley Kara. It wasn’t just the story itself which inspired me, it was the structure which reminded me of Agatha Christie’s stories – a whodunit. Whilst reading ‘The Rumour’, my own whodunit story was fluttering and forming in my brain and I realised I could model my own book on the structure of this book. So I did. And you can too – this blog explains how to deconstruct a novel to write your own.

Not long after I began writing my second book using the deconstructed structure of a whodunit novel, I heard Joanna Penn on The Creative Penn podcast talking about using this strategy to write a novel too. She described how, in her earlier days of writing, she deconstructed a Stephen King book. She noted down the first and last sentences of each chapter to understand the pace of the plot and how King kept his readers engaged so effectively. By modelling her book on King’s structure, Joanna was able to plot her own original characters and storyline in a formulaic way.

As I had already decided to do this with my whodunit, hearing Joanna relay her experience of using this method too, reassured me that deconstructing a novel in order to write my own was definitely the logical and analytical approach my writer brain relishes. Here’s how you can do it too.

How to deconstruct a novel to write your own

Deconstruct the novel into chapters

Choose the published novel you would like to deconstruct (ideally a book that you have really enjoyed reading) and write down what happens and what you notice in every chapter, for example:

  • Which characters appear?
  • Whose point of view is it written from?
  • Which tense is it written in?
  • Is it written in narrative or monologue (spoken or thought or a combination)?
  • What major/minor events occur?
  • Anything else you find noteworthy.

Analyse the structure

From this, you will have created an overview of the whole book – much like the original author began with. Now it’s time to analyse the structure, for example:

  • What genre identifiers are there? (E.g. in a whodunit there will be red herrings to throw readers off the scent.)
  • Is the storyline linear (chronological/event order) or non-linear (not chronological/event order)?
  • Were there any parts which provoked a strong emotional response (positive or negative)?
  • What was it specifically about the opening chapter that hooked you in?
  • Were there any parts you felt were too fast/slow paced?
  • Which character traits were you able to identify with, and why?
  • Was the ending the ending you were rooting for as a reader? If not, was it impactful/disappointing/frustrating etc.?

This process gives you an analytical insight into why the novel works (or doesn’t). Remember, most published books go through endless rounds of edits and tweaking and proofreads, so this finished story is the best version of itself and therefore an effective model upon which to base your own story.

Create your own characters and story outline

Begin to create or flesh out your own characters and storyline ideas, using the original novel’s structure as a model. This method is not about plagiarising another author’s work or re-telling their tale. It is simply about using an existing framework on which to build your own, original story. Now is the time to think about and make notes on:

  • Who is/are your protagonist(s) going to be – age/gender/race/religion/profession etc. and how are they different to the original novel?
  • What different problem(s) could your characters face compared to the original novel – internal/external, or both?
  • How will your characters overcome/suffer because of the different problems they face?
  • Are you going to mirror the original novel’s time line, or adapt it?
  • What location(s)/world(s)/time zones(s) are you going to set your story in compared to the original novel?
  • How is your novel going to end and will it create a similar response in your reader as the original novel? Do you want it to?
  • What genre identifiers are you going to include e.g. in my whodunit I need several suspects, red herrings and an unexpected twist at the end.

Reconstruct the novel into chapters

Now for the fun part – plotting! Using your notes from the deconstructed chapters and your own characters and storyline creation, start planning out your new novel. I plotted out 35 chapters in 3 hours for mine, so be prepared for this to take some time. Really think about how your story can and/or will sit within your deconstructed structure. This is an important part of the process as it allows you to see your story taking shape and shines a light on any chinks in your storyline whilst using a tried and tested scaffolded outline for guidance.

Craft your own story

Deconstructing a novel to write your own is a method that helps you plan your own story in an organised, methodical way. Despite this formulaic approach being at odds with some creative processes, it’s so useful if you’re new to writing, if you’re stuck at a certain point in your book and have no idea what to do about it or where to go with it, or if you want to try a new way of writing for any reason. Although you are following a set structure, it’s a creative endeavour so remember that ideas are just ideas and can be changed (probably many times over!) at a later stage.

And that’s how to deconstruct a novel to write your own!

If you enjoyed this blog, take a look at my other writing related posts:

7 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Manuscript

5 easy ways to make your first novel better

5 Tips That Will Make You Better at Creative Writing