Search This Blog

Story Analysis Questionnaire

I often see the question, "Do I need to read books to write books?"

I believe you do. Even without a formal education, through reading you absorb story architecture, effective dialogue, vivid scene setting, use of language, etc. I honestly don't understand why someone would wish to write books if they don't like them! Publishing is worse odds than playing the lotto if they are looking for a quick buck.

Analyzing story through reading is a powerful tool. By opening the cover and dissecting the construction of each scene and chapter, you become familiar with story architecture. Find a book that interests you and take notes as you read. Reading for pleasure and reading for mechanics are different experiences.


1) What was the genre/subgenre?

 What was the overall problem the story centered around? Can you identify it (a battle to be won, a mystery to be solved, a relationship to be resolved)? 

3) Note the key events that happen in each chapter or scene. Were questions raised or answered? Conflicts started, extended, or resolved? Important information or background given? Did any of them feel like wasted page time?

4) Where was the setting for the book overall and each scene? How was it described? Did evoke emotion? Did descriptions include the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, touch? Did the location support or contrast the action and dialogue? For example, a humorous moment at a sad occasion, etc.

5) Who were the characters? How were they described? Were the descriptions vague or highly detailed? Were you satisfied by the descriptions? Were the characters unique or caricatures? What were the details of each main character that you gathered along the way? Were they overly repetitive? Were any of the characters too stupid to live? Were any of them unnecessary? What made you love/hate each character?

6) Note the chapter when each character was introduced. Were they dismissed from the story? What was their final disposition?

7) Looking at dialogue, was important information relayed in each exchange or did it kill time? Was there conflict or tension in the exchanges, perhaps humor to break the tension? Mark the conversations that felt critical and those that bored or annoyed you. Did the conversations elicit emotion?

8) Was there a physical altercation, battle, or chase scene? Break down the action and reaction beats. Was there a recovery?

9) Were there subplots? List the details. Did they add to the story or detract from it? Were the subplots or secondary characters' stories resolved?

10) Mark places you lost interest and segments where you could not put it down.

11) Highlight segments that made you feel emotion: happiness, sadness, anger, tension, anticipation, anxiety, fear, love. Did a section bring you to tears or make you laugh out loud?

12) Could you determine a theme or themes? What passages addressed theme? Were there specific statements by characters or incidents to reinforce theme?

13) Did anything turn you off about the story or their writing style? What would you do differently?

14) Were you left feeling satisfied with the story or do you feel the writer let you down at the end? What could have been done differently to fix it?

You can learn a lot by reading top selling books in the genre you wish to write in.

Here are several worksheets to help you with this process:

Story Building Worksheet

Scene Building Worksheet

Character Building Worksheet

Dissecting Agatha Christie

Story Analyses

You can find more free forms

Learning From Story Analyses

While researching the information for Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, I dissected hundreds of books, movies, and television shows. I broke them down chapter by chapter and scene by scene. Breaking down a story in this way can help you learn structure, elements that worked and those that didn't.

Here are a few of my blog posts about story elements.

The Power of Story

New Stories

Conflict Overview: The Americans

Antihero as Protagonist Luke Murphy

What Dan Brown Does Right

Analysis Watcher in the Woods

Dissecting Christie Part 1 Crooked House

Dissecting Christie Part 2

Dissecting Christie Part 3

Dissecting Christie Part 4

Dissecting Christie Part 5

Dissecting Christie Part 6

The Magic of Voice A R Kahler

Mental Detours Burn Notice

House at the End of the Street Part 1

House at the End of the Street Part 2

Going Dark

Dark Places Part 1

Dark Places Part 2

Red Sparrow: A Broken Winged Bird

Wonder Woman versus Atomic Blonde

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Review of Throne of Glass

And Then There Were None Agatha Christie

Anne of Green Gables

Lessons from The Voice

A Tale of Two Dystopias Kincaid and Bracken

A Mystery with Multiple POVs Deborah Crombie

Conflicts of the Hunger Games Reading as a fan and reading as an analyst are two different experiences. To analyze a book, you have to pause after each scene and take notes, then take a longer look back at the overall arc and what worked (or failed). Here are some questions to ponder as you do so.

Story Analysis Questions Next week's post is a questionnaire to help you with your analysis of books.
Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, available in ebook and printwas the result of my analyses of what makes good fiction. You can learn about the process and access free tools and forms at

Mastering Revision

Once your draft is done, the hard work starts: the revision process. In addition to grammar and sentence structure, these revisions tips can help you identify plot holes and speed bumps that affect the reader's enjoyment of your story.

Revision is Half the Battle

Speed Bumps

The Reaction Plot Hole

Find and Replace Tool

Proofreading Tips Part 1 of 2

Proofreading Tips Part 2 of 2

Give Your Book A Listen

Backing up your Babies

Tips for Managing Your Files

More tips on revising your draft can be found in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers available in ebook and print. Much of the material from my Story Building Block books is available in my blog posts and website along with free forms.

Mastering Grammar and Prose

The elements that make prose "good" are subjective. It can be lyrical or plain. Your readers must be able to understand your words to enjoy the story. Grammatical and word usage errors are speed bumps. It is important to smooth them out so the reader's trip through your story is smooth. You don't have to waste time on perfecting your words until you have a solid draft.

Think of sentence structure and grammar as the melody to the lyrics of your words.

Here are articles on sentence structure, basic grammar, rhetorical devices and other story elements.


The above information can be found in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers available in ebook and print

Much of the material from my Story Building Block books is available in my blog posts and website along with free forms.

Mastering Conflict in Scenes

Every scene should contain conflict. This idea set me on my search to figure out what that meant and how I could achieve it. I found that conflicts create tension which encourages readers to turn the page.

The tension lies with the wanting. It can be a small thing: to escape an emotion, to get a cup of coffee. Every main character in the scene should want something out of the exchange in each scene: to vent, to get information, to cause trouble, to ease trouble, to find something, to lose themselves in something. 

Whether or not they get it is up to you. They can get it and be satisfied, not get it and need to try again, get it and find out it wasn't what they needed or requires something further. This is how you propel the reader as they meander or speed through your story. Goals and obstacles supply the gas that keeps the story motor running.
Here are some articles on how to craft conflict to create tension.
Responses to Obstacles

The information on genre can also be found in the book Story Building Blocks The Four Layers of Conflict in ebook and print editions as well as on my website Much of the material from my Story Building Block books is available in my blog posts and website along with free forms such as:

Mastering Character Development

If developed well, a character can live in a reader's mind long after they've forgotten the book's title, plot points, even the author's name. Here are some tips on creating memorable characters.

Memorable Characters

Naming Your Characters

Avoid Sad Sack Protagonists

Reinventing the Hero

Choosing Your Antagonist

Crafting The Con Man

Mob Mentality (how mobs control people)

Angel or Devil

Levels of Antagonism

Friends and Foes

Developing Sidekicks

Sixteen Lovers Part 1

Sixteen Lovers Part 2

Sixteen Lovers Part 3

Sixteen Lovers Part 4

Romance: Points of Connection

Obstacles to Love

Layering Conflict Character Motivation 

Ten Ways to Motivate Characters

Writing (Characters) in Three Dimensions

Should Your Characters Change?

Unpacking your Character Question 1

Unpacking your Character Question 2

Unpacking your Character Question 3

What Drives Your Characters Part 1

What Drives Your Characters Part 2

Tapping Your Character's Currency

Currency in Action

Ditherers and Despots

Conflicts of Project Runway Under Pressure

New Year's Resolution

Personal Ghosts as Conflict

Crafting Creatures: Ghosts

Crafting Creatures: Witches

Crafting Creatures: Vampires

Crafting Creatures: Fae

Crafting Creatures: Angels and Demons

Crafting Characters: Seenagers

Dressing Your Characters

12 Fascinating Fe/Male Spies

Revising Characters

The information on genre can also be found in the book Story Building Blocks The Four Layers of Conflict in ebook and print editions as well as on my website Much of the material from my Story Building Block books is available in my blog posts and website along with free forms such as:

Character Worksheet

Mannequins Under Pressure

Sixteen Lovers

Communication Conflicts