Descriptive analysis of the La Inca Belicia and Lola books. Who do you think makes the strongest, boldest decisions in the book?
The author, the primary narrator, and the protagonist of the book are all male, but some of the strongest characters and voices in the book (La Inca, Belicia, Lola) are female. Who do you think makes the strongest, boldest decisions in the book?
Given the machismo and swagger of the narrative voice, how does the author express the strength of the female characters? Do you think there is an intentional comment in the contrast between that masculine voice and the strong female characters?
Analysing your favourite book is a great place to start if you want to improve your writing skills.
However, don’t stop there. Literary analysis takes time to learn, so review as many books as you can. Start in the genre or topic you want to write in and move out from there.
Then try reading from different genres for variety and to learn what sort of techniques are universal.
You can learn a lot from bad books too.
The first time around, you don’t need to think about analysis. Experience the book as a natural reader. If it’s a classic novel, enjoy it! In some cases, non-fiction book repeat themes and ideas, so it’s fine to skip around.
The second time around, approach the book more critically. Pay close attention to the author’s writing style.
Use the table of contents to jump around to key sections and chapters. If you are analyzing non-fiction, consider how accurately the introduction and conclusion sum up the book.
Get a set of coloured markers, pencils, pens and mini sticky notes and put aside what you learned at school about never writing on books.
On the second (and third and fourth) read-throughs, you need to write ALL OVER that book. Obviously, if it’s your favourite book, you’ll probably need to buy a second copy just for the purposes of annotation.
If you’re reviewing a book on Kindle, use the annotation feature. When complete, you can export these notes to your email and review.
Tip: When annotating a book with multiple prints, try to get the one with the most spacious typesetting. Spacious margins and line heights are of real benefit here.
Every good non-fiction book contains a single controlling idea, topic statement or thesis statement that sums up what it’s about.
Typically, the writer explains their idea or argument in the introduction and conclusion. It’s usually a one or two sentences summary of the key themes or arguments in the book.
If you’re struggling to identify the thesis statement, Google for a book review. Alternatively, use a book summary service (more of this in a bit).
Determining the controlling idea will help you figure out if you agree or disagree with the book. It will also help you contrast different controlling ideas and even writer your own.
A topic statement is harder to identify for fiction. However, book reviews and book descriptions are a useful jumping-off point. If it’s a classic novel, chances are someone already did the hard work for you.
Authors don’t write books in a vacuum. They have a specific viewpoint, biases and write from the viewpoint of their education, geography and history.
If you’re evaluating a contemporary author, these factors are easy to identify. You could even read or listen to interviews with them.
If you’re evaluating an older book, check the references and read one or two other books that informed this one. Alternatively, read a biography about the author.
Good novels typically have story arcs for each key character. Their world changes in some way from the beginning to the end of the story.
Non-fiction also contains arcs, if they’re any good. Consider the author’s viewpoint, the stories they tell and the characters or ideas in the book. You could chart each of these using bullet points or on a mind-map.
Alternatively, put each chapter title into a spreadsheet and write a one line summary of what happened.
Think about which parts of the book engrossed or entertained you most.
In fiction, which parts moved you most? When did you feel most engaged with the characters? When were you on the edge of your seat?
Taylor and Hauge explained how top writers use the rule of three when setting up and delivering punchlines.
Look at how the book is structured on a large scale. Is the setup effective?
Mind mapping essentially involves writing down a single idea and expanding on this idea via connected or related ideas. It’s a good way of visualizing or outlining the structure of an entire book. We also recommend this step if you want to learn how to write a book.
For non-fiction, the central idea is the book’s key theme or big idea. The related ideas are usually other chapters. For fiction, consider using characters, viewpoints or story arcs.
Read our guide to mind mapping.
Select a single chapter or section of the book and compare it with another.
It’s sometimes instructive to write out a page or two of a literary novel or classic by hand. This slows down the process of analyzing a book and helps you learn more of the author’s style.
This is the one area where advice varies depending on if you are writing fiction or non-fiction.
For fiction writers, it is best to go in “blind,” not knowing anything about the story in advance. This allows you to fully experience the surprises and emotional peaks and troughs as the writer intends.
However, for non-fiction, you can learn a great deal from seeing how the writer has broken down the content and summarised it in enticing, clear sections in the table of contents.
Blink and getAbstract are two good sources of book summaries for non-fiction.
A Slipbox or Zettelkästen is a place for storing research and connecting related ideas and themes. It’s a particularly useful research tool for non-fiction writers.