As promised, here is my very first book study for my writer’s apprenticeship! A little late as I'd hoped to post on Monday, but it took a bit more time than I thought to complete it.
For those who haven't read my previous posts about the Writer's Apprenticeship, I’m basically studying one NYT bestseller per month as part of my self-education program so I can figure out how other author’s structure their novels, reveal their characters and carry out their arcs, as well as build worlds so I can hopefully get better at it myself. Because I write thriller type books, most of the titles I choose for this study will come from that genre, but not all and I will be reading a mix of young adult and adult books because I read in both categories. That said, I think the best way to really get the most of these studies is for you to do your own on your own. My observations won’t help you nearly as much as your own will. But if you do study the same book, you could compare yours to mine and that might be helpful.
Before I get right to the book study, I want to divulge my book study process in case you want to do something similar on a book of your choice and need a point of reference. Also, this is not a review. I do not intend to focus on my personal feelings as a reader, but on the technical aspects of story construction.
So here are my steps:
I study one book per month and choose it several weeks before I need to start the study.
I divide the book up over the entire 30-31 days of the month, so usually I am reading about a chapter a day.
I look at the book as a whole first and find out the total number of pages, who the publisher, editor, author’s agent are, the POV, and formatting. I think I will use this information to educate myself on what each publishing house/editor/agent gravitates towards voice and story-wise. I feel woefully lacking knowledge-wise about this sort of thing.
I take notes as I read on the book’s format, the main events in the chapter, sentences/descriptions that I really love, first/last lines, and the number of pages the chapter has. By the end of the study I have nearly twenty pages of notes, far too much to include here. I include chapter summaries as well.
Once I’ve finished the entire novel, I print out my notes and go over them.
I make a timeline calendar for the book.
I go through and try to pick out the essential elements from Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering and add them to my notes. I am a big fan of how he describes story structure and cannot recommend his books enough. PLEASE GO CHECK THEM OUT.
I then make some more notes on what stood out to me.
***Fair warning: this is a book study, so it is FULL OF SPOILERS.
BOOK TITLE: Stalking Jack the Ripper
AUTHOR: Kerri Maniscalco
PUBLISHER/IMPRINT: Little Brown, Jimmy Patterson Books (this is the very first book for this imprint)
Genre/Category: Historical Thriller/Young Adult
EDITOR: Jenny Bak
AGENT: Barbara Poelle
Number of Pages: 325 (including the author’s note and acknowledgements)
NUMBER OF CHAPTERS: 30
MOST COMMON NUMBER OF PAGES PER CHAPTER: 11
POV(S): first person, past tense. One POV
August 30, 1888: Chapter 1
August 31, 1888: Chapters 2 & 3
September 7, 1888: Chapter 4
September 8, 1888: Chapter 5 & 6
September 10, 1888: Chapter 7
September 11, 1888: Chapter 8 & 9
September 13, 1888: Chapter 10, 11, 12, 13
September 14, 1888: Chapter 14
September 25, 1888: Chapters 15, 16, 17, 18
September 27, 1888: Chapter 19
September 30, 1888: Chapters 20 & 21
October 1, 1888: Chapter 22
October 8, 1888: Chapter 23
October 16, 1888: Chapter 24
November 8, 1888: Chapter 25
November 9, 1888: Chapters 26, 27, 28, 29
November 23, 1888: Chapter 30
Notes on Timeline:
Each chapter heading includes the date, so it is obvious to the reader what day it is, though the author still uses transitional sentences that mention the gaps in time inside the chapters as well. I did plot them out on a calendar so I could visually see what it looked like.
The timeline follows the actual Jack the Ripper case timeline, but the author does take a few liberties that she mentions in the author’s note. But this means she was working within a predetermined time period.
Only the important moments of these four months are included. We don’t get a blow by blow of the gaps. The author does a great job of keeping the pace and every scene has a purpose.
***Disclaimer: I am still learning so I may get the actual beats wrong or others who have read this book may disagree with my analysis, so take my commentary with a grain of salt. I am not an expert by any means.
Part One: The Set Up
Opening Image: Is extremely strong. The main character, Audrey Rose, is cutting into a cadaver.
First Line: “I placed my thumb and forefinger on the icy flesh, spreading it taut above the breastbone as Uncle had showed me.”
The Hook: For me, the hook is in chapter one. It is Audrey performing a late-night post mortem examination under her Uncle’s supervision. Given the time period this was scandalous and forbidden, and so it is intriguing to read about this girl boldly breaking from social norms.
First Plot Point: I believe it occurs in Chapter 3 when Audrey examines one of the Ripper’s victims and her uncle tells her the woman briefly worked in Audrey’s household. Feeling bad that the woman came to this end, Audrey makes a vow to solve the case for her and every other voiceless victim.
Part Two: The Reaction
The First Pinch Point: Page 114. Audrey goes looking for a man who might have information that could expose the Ripper and finds him with his throat slashed. The Ripper is aware that they are looking for him and is one step ahead.
The Midpoint: Seeing her uncle in the asylum, Bedlam, where he is being held because they think he is responsible for the Ripper murders. She vows to “make things right” or “die trying”. This is a renewed vow to solve the case, only more determined because she basically declares her intention to stop keeping to her station. “I’d had enough of men telling me where I was going…” It is a very pointed taking of control on her part.
Part Three: The Attack
The Second Pinch Point: Chapter 20. The double murder scene. It is a reminder how diabolical the Ripper is. It also exonerates her uncle.
The Second Plot Point: Nathaniel, Audrey’s Brother is revealed to be the Ripper on page 291.
Part Four: The Resolution
26 pages (note how close this is to the length of Part 1)
The solving of the crime is due to Audrey, so in this way she is the hero, though at the end her brother accidentally electrocutes himself, so she doesn’t technically defeat him.
She also manages to changer her father’s mind about pursuing her dream of studying forensics and maybe this is the true triumph as it is what she wanted from the beginning. She is no longer hiding her true nature.
Audrey’s father: “Always foster and grow that unquenchable curiosity of yours.”
Audrey: “I smiled. That was a promise I fully intended to keep.”
First line of the book she’s doing something under the direction of someone else literally. Last line she is in control fully.
Additional Thoughts and Notes
This book follows Larry Brooks’s story architecture perfectly. Every key part is present. All of the chapters serve to propel the plot forward while also revealing character. There are many hooky first and last lines—not only at the beginning and end of the book, but throughout.
Though I knew who committed the crime early on, there were plenty of characters that the author successfully cast doubt upon.
The world is very well built and you can tell that the author did extensive research. Nothing felt obviously implausible.
I thought it was clever how the main character made similar vows at the first plot point and the midpoint.
Audrey felt fully fleshed out and gains reader empathy right up front when she nervously goes through the post mortem in chapter one and we feel how badly she wants to impress her uncle and how much is at stake for her if she gets caught.
I can see why the book did well. It has a very compelling premise that is based on a very familiar and perennially appealing subject, but is a new twist on the usual story. Every scene has a reason for being.
I would recommend this specifically for studying how to plot a thriller.
I hope this study and my book study process was helpful for those who stuck around to read it. Let me know in the comments if you have questions or your own take on this book or if you plan to join me on the next study!
***THE NEXT BOOK STUDY WILL BE: One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus. I will finish the note taking in January, but it will go live at the end of February because I will need time to organize and transcribe my notes into one cohesive document and to pick out all of the author’s story engineering.