Literary Reverse Engineering

A Dangerous Mix of Nerdy Tendencies & Literary Obsession

My background is web development, coding. I started off coding when I was a teenager, and I carried on through university and beyond. I have a sort of technical mind, one could say. But I also enjoy literature and reading; the classics, a little bit of modern stuff, anything that makes you think. I also enjoy a bit of long-form journalism that’s well written.

When I was reading a selection of articles recently, I thought: these guys and girls can write well, so how about trying to reverse engineer what they’re doing? (That’s my programming and technical brain coming out to play!)

Now, for a one-page article, obviously, there is a lot of the process which is opaque, hidden, which one can’t necessarily discern from looking at the end result. But from the end result, you can discern the structure and reverse engineer that structure to see if there are any related patterns across different articles.

I thought: let’s see if there are any interesting similarities or common structures that appear. So I did a little bit of very light analysis, for want of a better word, and I came up with a couple of reverse engineered structures for the articles that I had read and you’ll find them below.

Example 1

The historical routine (normality)
A recent occurrence 
Who is involved
Who else is involved
Setting the scene 
An anecdote from the recent occurrence 
Draw parallel from distant past

Example 2

Describe scene of recent activity 
Describe the protagonist 
Describe her activity and what she thinks of it
Wider, contrasting opinion of the activity 
Describe a shift in her life
Continue with current scene 
Contextualise within a dramatic recent event
Protagonist’s thoughts 
Look to the future
Enter new friend, conversation
Unknown future, unknown aspirations

Each line can relate to a paragraph or section. I can imagine it being a very useful to build up a collection of these template-like structures to help with structuring future stories or articles. I would imagine it could work just as well with fiction as with non-fiction.

Of course, these were two very different articles written by different people so there was nothing really to compare between them. But anything that has a chance of improving my own writing is a good thing. The more one reads, the more one has a chance of absorbing and reusing the skills that other authors and journalists portray. And hey, sharing this here may spark some ideas for someone else as well.

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