Coming Monday: The Deconstruction and Analysis of “Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane

But then, you probably knew that already.

If this is news to you, I suggest you review the last couple of posts here on Storyfix, and then come on down.  Love to have you join us.

If you aren’t sure what a “deconstruction” is, it’s an analysis of the structure of a novel or a film (in this case, both) from a writer’s point of view, breaking the story down into four parts, separated by three major story milestones, each with it’s own mission-driven context, and peppered with specific little tricks and transitions that ultimately make it work.

All of which, when combined with elements of the characterization and theme and driven from a compelling conceptual essence, comprise what we call story architecture.

Which is what, by the way, might just get you published.

Deconstructions help us see this developmental/structural model at work in successful novels and films.  This not only validates it as a storytelling paradigm — the one editors expect when they open the envelope containing your story, by the way, even if they define it all using different terminology — it becomes an inspiring growth exercise that empowers our own work.

It’s like watching Roger Federer play tennis.  Makes you want to hit the court.  And when you do, you’ll already be better just from watching how the best in the world do it.

And Dennis Lehane — when you’re talking psychological thrillers — is the best writer in the world.  My opinion… shared by millions, some of whom are professional critics.

I’ve been urging you all to see the movie and/or read the novel before Monday. 

Or, if you can’t, study up on how the story turns out by clicking HERE.  Because you absolutely need to know how this story ends to understand how it has been constructed and why it works.

Which is a universal law of writing contemporary fiction, too, by the way. 

Your draft won’t work until you know how the story ends.  If you use the drafting to discover that ending (pantsing it), then you need to understand that you’ll have t0  rewrite or extensively revise your manuscript with that context in mind.

And that if you don’t, you won’t sell it.  Whether to put that much more hard work into your story is always your call.

Or, you could plan your story out ahead of time using the principles of story architecture and the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling — something I advocate strongly — and write your story from that context beginning on Day 1. 

By the way, if Shutter Island intrigues you, check out the author’s website HERE.  Read the Q&A and watch the video interview… pretty interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, I’m cranking on the deconstruction from this end.  Gonna be a busy weekend.

Hope to see you Monday.

Write on.

Oh… P.S. …

If you can’t get enough good examples of the structure at work, or if you’re just in the mood for a great story that is as fresh and original as anything you could ask for in a movie (in case you thought you’d seen it all)…

… go see the new film The Joneses, starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny.  It’s hard to find a completely original idea these days, and this one does it, along with powerful themes, great acting and edgy screenwriting.  An underrated, largely undiscovered (though well-reviewed) film that will surprise you… and inspire you as a writer.

And, it’s right on the money in terms of story structure.

12 Comments

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12 Responses to Coming Monday: The Deconstruction and Analysis of “Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane

  1. Do you happen to know of any websites that can help someone learn how to deconstruct fiction? I’m so here on Monday–just curious as to if there are any techniques that might get me started on my own 🙂

  2. @Kari — the key to deconstructing a story is to know what to look for. Sort of like a medical examiner doing… well, you know. If you can’t tell a liver from a kneecap, then the deconstruction process won’t work.

    Frankly — and forgive me if this sounds self-serving — your in the best place for this. No other site that I know of does it, and no other site is teaching and clarifying the structural elements involved. There’ll all right here on the site.

    When you do a deconstruction, you are looking to spot the major story milestones (first plot point, mid-point, second plot point, pinch points) and to analyze how the story creates the proper differentiated narrative contexts among the four parts of the story. This is all covered here, and in great detail (check out the archives… look for my “Story Structure series”, and I have an ebook on it, too.

    Hope this helps. Glad you’re here. Gonna be fun.

  3. Pedro

    I have a couple of suggestions for future deconstructions. The first one is “El Secreto de sus Ojos”, the Argentinian film that won the Oscar for best picture in a foreign language. A strongly recommend you watch it, because the story is very well done. It has everything: humor, drama, romance; and yet, everything fits in the end. I think it’s a remarkable achievement in storytelling.

    Another suggestion is that you deconstruct a timeless classic, such as “Casablanca”. Such classics are movies that are great beyond reasonable doubt. So, there must be lessons to learn from them, right?

  4. *Larry. You are not being self serving. What you say is true. I have reviewed other plot books I have read over the years after studying your “Story Stucture.” Tain’t there. They have the words.The tell. But, they don’t show. You show. It’s that simple.

    For me it is this simple,” … Know what to look for..” and the structure finds you.

    Work with story structure for awhile, in my case about two months, you can drop into a movie in progress and know where you are based on what the first couple of scenes you watch are trying to accomplish.

    I’ve watched everything lately from Wall Street, White Boys Can’t Jump, to Pale Rider. As different as those movies are every single one of them has every structure element in it you discuss and on schedule.

    My problem now. First time I saw Wall Street in the 80’s
    I was blown away. Now that I see the structure, the only creative moment is the “greed is good speech.”

    I have the feeling a couple of three folks got together over a beer after work and cobbled this thing together before they went home. LOL I know Bruce Willis’s ” Last Man Standing” had to be done that way. Had too. LOL…

    It is fun to watch both the heavy handed and subtle ways structure is used to produce story.

  5. trudy

    Larry, I went to see Shutter Island last evening. It was still at my local theatre. Interestingly, it was so different from the movie trailer. But I’m so looking forward to this deconstruction, especially because of all the flashbacks and illusions woven thoughout the story. Anxiously awaiting Monday! t

  6. No self-serving, Larry. In my experience this has been the best site overall for desconstruction, construction, structure, literary architecture, butt-kicking, encouragement, straight talk, and well….hilarious church sign jokes! Hang around, Kari, and you will learn tons.

  7. I got my book! I just received Shutter Island, which I ordered last Monday – I’ve never been so anxious to receive a book in the mail in my life. Unfortunately, I missed the movie. I had planned on seeing it today but just checked out local listings and it’s already out of theaters. 🙁 Guess I’ll have to wait for the DVD. Meanwhile, I was supposed to clean the house today, but I guess that won’t be happening! Hate that. 🙂 I’ll be devouring the book in anticipation of the deconstruction posts.
    Thanks so much Larry for this great opportunity!

  8. great post, now I don’t have to run away in terror whenever someone mentions ‘deconstruction’ to me (shades of postmodernism and Derrida…)

    Dennis Lehane writes the best thrillers

  9. Monica

    Well, it looks like I’ve caught up with your posts just in time. April has been nuts, and still I’m writing three time zones away from home. But when I get home tomorrow night I’m going to find Shutter Island in some form – looks like reading the book (as fast as possible) is my best bet. I’m may have to read your posts late (I don’t want to find out the surprise ending too soon). I’ll miss out on the conversation, but I’ll read every post! Guaranteed to be priceless!

  10. kelly

    Hello Larry. Kelly here.
    Not sure if this is the best way to prepare, but worked for me.
    I got a copy of Shutter Island to prepare for the Deconstruction Monday. Before I began reading, I went through and marked (using page numbers) about where the four parts and the Milestones should be, including pinch points. I took notes as I read, and compared the twists as I progressed.
    Mr. Lehane hit the Milestone markers very closely.
    The twists were legion, some written as subtle foreshadowing, many of which couldn’t be recognized on the first time through.
    The man is truly a master…
    The movie is at a second run theater in my area, and I may not be able to get there today or tomorrow, but will plan on seeing it at some point to compare/contrast.
    Looking forward to Monday!
    Regards, Kelly

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