Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Why Should Writers Learn to Analyze Fiction?

by MaryAnn Diorio @DrMaryAnnDiorio

As someone who spent years analyzing the work of numerous classic authors while earning my PhD and MFA, and as a former university professor who has taught fiction writing and literature, I’d like to share with you some insights regarding the reasons I think writers should learn how critically and objectively to analyze the work of other writers.

It’s one thing to read a novel; it’s quite another to dissect it. Whereas simple reading provides entertainment, dissecting a novel provides an understanding of how that novel was constructed. And knowing how a novel is constructed is crucial to writing one. I call this dissection process modeling.

Modeling, as I define it, is the process of analyzing a novel for the purpose of writing one oneself. Analyzing a novel for other purposes is called literary criticism. Basically, literary criticism is the act of evaluating, understanding, and interpreting an author’s writing for the purpose of appreciating it more fully, not usually for the purpose of writing a novel oneself.

In today’s blog post, we are going to focus on modeling as we explore why it is important for fiction writers to develop the critical and objective analytical skills essential to learning how to write fiction. 

Here are some key reasons to analyze fiction:

1. Structural Understanding. We analyze in order to understand. When I was a little girl, I enjoyed taking things apart and then putting them back together again. I wanted to understand not only the individual parts but also how those parts fit together and worked together. The same is true of novel analysis. We take a novel apart to understand its individual parts (characters, plot, theme, etc.) and to understand how those parts fit together and work together. It takes this kind of understanding to write a story.

2. Language Understanding. Modeling gives the writer an understanding of the author’s use of language. This use includes literary devices such as metaphor, simile, synecdoche, and personification, among others. Because fiction employs a host of literary devices that create a particular effect, knowing how to analyze a work of fiction helps the writer focus on those language devices that will enhance his own fiction writing and render it more powerful and memorable.

3. Character Formation. Characters drive fiction and are its raison d’être. As we analyze an author’s characters, we observe whether a character is strong or weak and why. We note how the author used dialogue, backstory, pacing, and tension to create his character. As we learn what another author did to create powerful characters, we are better able to create powerful characters of our own.

4. Theme Recognition. Another reason to learn how critically and objectively to analyze a published author’s work is to understand how an author weaves theme into his fiction. Theme is organic to a novel. It grows from the inside out and often emerges without the author’s conscious awareness. As you write your own novels, you may know your theme when you start, but often the theme will not become evident until the novel is finished.

It is a well-known fact that we learn by doing. Dissecting a novel is halfway between reading one and writing one. But how you handle that halfway point can make all the difference in your reaching your final destination.


Dr. MaryAnn Diorio is a widely published, award-winning author of compelling fiction that deals with the deepest issues of human life. Her fiction has won several awards, including the 2020 Christian Indie Book Award for Historical Fiction, the Silver Medal for E-Book Fiction in the 2015 Illumination Book Awards Contest, and First Place for Inspirational Fiction in the 2011 Colorado RWA Launching a Star Contest.

MaryAnn holds the PhD in French with a concentration in Comparative Literature from the University of Kansas. She also holds the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. A former university Professor of Romance Languages and Fiction-Writing, MaryAnn is the founder and director of The MaryAnn Diorio School of Writing. She resides with her husband in New Jersey. They are the blessed parents of two amazing daughters, a very smart son-in-law, and six rambunctious grandchildren. In her spare time, MaryAnn loves to paint in oils and acrylics, play the piano and mandolin, and make up silly songs with her grandchildren. You can reach MaryAnn at maryanndiorio.com.


  1. You are most welcome, DiAnn! :) Thank you for reading my post.



  2. Great post, MaryAnn!

    When I was in school I felt as though we sucked the life out of some great literature by picking it apart. Even though I've always loved reading, I didn't enjoy it much as a school subject. But now as an adult, I see the real benefit in analysing fiction, and feel it helps me enormously as an author and a student of writing craft.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! I'm glad you found my post helpful.

  3. I'm late to this party, but as a former English major, I love the distinction you make between analysis for better understanding and dissection for learning the working parts. This was terrific! Many thanks from this rookie novelist. (Prayers accepted and appreciated!)

    1. Thank you so very much for your kind words, Marline. I am so glad you were blessed. And yes. Be assured of my prayers for you.