Let’s face it. You’ve probably been asked, or required, to read a book you just couldn’t read. It just wasn’t your kind of book, and the thought of reading it made you want to stick your finger down your throat and gag. For years, I reviewed for School Library Journal. Every month, I excitedly awaited each new book's arrival. Ripping open the padded mailer and pulling out a shiny new ARC was frequently a highlight of my workday. I had the privilege of reviewing the first book in several series that have gone on to television fame: Alias, Gossip Girl. The first book in the popular S.A.S.S. series. Jen Calonita’s enormously popular series, Secrets of My Hollywood Life. Reading and reviewing those books was a cinch. It was fun. But then there were others, which shall go unnamed. I had to read them, so I figured out a way to speed through them. Here’s how to do it:
1. Jot down the title and the author. Read the back cover blurb and the inside front and back cover flaps. There’s usually an unanswered question, stated or implied, that the character faces, which will propel her and you through the book. Jot down the question.
2. Note the number of pages in the book. Divide it into eighths, and put sticky notes at the end of each chapter that is closest to the 1/8, ¼, ½, ¾ and 7/8 marks. Mark your tabs accordingly.
3. Read the first and last page, or the first and last scene, of the book. Scenes are usually identifiable by a line break or, sometimes, hash marks or other identifiers. If the thought of reading the last page makes you cringe, we’re speed-reading, remember? What was the problem on the first page, or in the first scene? How was it finally resolved in the end?
4. Now go back and read, consecutively, the last page (or scene) before each of your tabs:
5. One-eighth of the way into the book, the character has reached a turning point. Until now, the author has been setting things up. You’ve been given the background that explains why the character is in the fix she’s in. You’ve met some of her friends and family, and the villain. Sometimes the villain is cosmic (God, angels, demons, vampires, werewolves). Often, it’s societal, or clannish. More frequently, it’s distilled into another person. Almost always, the character needs to face something in her own self that’s holding her back. There is the external problem, and the internal one. At this point, the character finally decides to take action to fix her external problem. What action does she take?
6. One-quarter of the way into the book, the character’s actions have made her situation worse on some level, either externally (plot-wise) or spiritually/emotionally (story-wise) or both. What’s worse now than it was before? What is the new development?
7. The middle, between the quarter and the three-quarter marks, is where the character develops needed skills, or discovers needed information, to surmount the external plot problem in the last quarter. The reader will learn more about the events that made the character who she is today, and why it’s so hard for her to solve her problem. The early, easy conflicts have been solved. What’s been solved? Now, a new, unexpected plot event, known as a twist, generally propels the plot in a new direction. Or if not that, the character takes bolder action to solve her external problem. What’s happened? How has she been caught off guard? What bold step is she planning to take?
8. Three-quarters of the way into the book, the character reaches a dead end, known as the black moment, or dark night of the soul. She won’t get what she considers to be the solution to her external problem. Or if she does, it’s at a devastating emotional or spiritual cost. There’s often a second twist at this point. She learns something that changes everything, but it’s too late. What did she learn? What action does she plan to take?
9. In the pages between ¾ and 7/8, she finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Here is where she is experiences most profoundly the effects of her actions. I love this part best. It’s where she finally pauses to reflect, to take measure, to regain her bearings, to decide what she really wants, and who she really wants to be. Often, another character is needed to show her where she’s gone wrong. Here, she finally makes the right decision and knows the right actions to take to solve the story question, or her internal struggle. What’s making her sting at this point? What happened to her that she feels she cannot live down, but if she would but take responsibility for her actions, she would be forever free?
10. Between 7/8 and the end, she takes whatever external actions are necessary to solve the story question that faced her on page one, and dogged her to the end. What does she do?
So there you are. Do you want to go back and read the book? Does it interest you more than before? If not, you still did what you set out to do. You just read a novel in an hour or less.