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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Deconstructing Dresden - or- Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Some One Else

Let's get one thing straight: I'm not a fan of wizards named Harry.

Harrys tend to be broody, melodramatic, and at some point in the book I either throw it across the room (leaving a dent I need to repair) or I walk away wanting to slap someone.

So reading the Dresden Files makes as much sense as the moon being made of green cheese. But Jim Butcher writes a compelling novel. If I weren't so fascinated, I'd hate him for that.

I wouldn't have picked up any Dresden novels this weekend except I was throwing a snit about writing and I desperately needed to escape my Inner Editor for a few hours. I reread some Pratchett, tore through Ally Carter and Lisa Shearin, toyed with a few books by Linnea Sinclair and then stumbled across a black sheep that was not of my flock.

Starting a minor avalanche that only destroyed fourteen dust bunny villages under the bed I pulled out the book my husband has been patiently reading (and hiding from me) since he finished the Jason Wander series.

Any port in a storm, as They say. So I read. Chapter one was bland. Chapter two was backstory. Chapter three was okay. And then suddenly the book was empty and I'd lost two hours of my life again.

How does that happen?

Did I mention Jim Butcher is good? Really good? Extraordinarily good?

Dodging DH's Evil Eye I sat back down with the book and started taking notes. Dissecting Dresden so I could find Jim Butcher's secret formula.

My conclusion is this: Three is a magic number.

A typical Butcher chapter is set up like this:
- Open action (quickly resolved)

- Main problem with accompanying action (whole issue shown)

- Ending challenge (Big Bad walks in, someone is sniped, Werebunnies turn pink and dance the polka)

The next chapter will follow up on the Ending Challenge. All the while, Jim Butcher isn't pulling his punches. If Dresden has his ID checked, the person he sees will be out to kill him.

I pulled out Twisted Metal to see how my Rough Draft was doing with this whole magic number theory. That was painful. I'm not only missing the Law of Three, but I'm leaving whole chapters open with nothing but world-building. Cute, likable, cuddly, IRRELEVANT!!!!

Because this is Draft 1 I'm forging ahead. I don't need perfection I just need a [edited for content] draft that I can slash to ribbons with my red pen. But, starting now, I'm focusing on the Law of Three.


  1. Out of curiosity, which Dresden Files book did you read? (I couldn't tell from the post if you've read the whole series, or jumping in with a specific book.)

  2. I've been dissecting a lot of my fave books lately, but never thought to analyze chapter by chapter.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post!

  3. Merc - I've read books 1-5 in order. I like the ones with the fairies, the vampires bore me.

    Tere- You're welcome. :o)

  4. Never really thought of it before, but I'm in the same camp as Tere. I usually look at stories as a whole and don't think of breaking them down on a chapter by chapter basis.

    Seems like there is a lot of value to doing so, though, and this is something I should start doing...

  5. Yeah, both the Dresden books I've read follow the OTHER three pattern you mention - ch 1, meh; ch2, worldbuild; ch 3, okay - and then we have Book. I do love them, they just take a bit of getting into.

    Anyway, rules of three - yeah, I use The Sentence from Lisle's How To Think Sideways as a similar sort of thing, just to keep in mind the fact that the scene always needs some sort of CONFLICT that's contributing to the main action in some way. It's been a useful thing to be able to bear in mind, and I can tell that my drafts post-learning about this are cleaner with less wasted scenes than the ones prior :)

    *cookies* for you. Huzzah for learning new techniques! :)

  6. Say not all that you know, believe not all that you hear. ............................................................

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  8. J. M. - A friend in my writer's group suggested it once. We went through chapter by chapter looking at verb use, nouns, simile, everything. It was like reading for college, but it was a thriller rather than Shakespeare.

    Inky - Some books just start slow. But without the first three chapters I'd be lost.

  9. Random person with name I can't read - That's a pretty quote. Yours, or someone else's?