Sunday, March 22, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 4: Exploring Structure

Oh god! It can't possibly be done in thirteen weeks! Can it?

I, personally, am overwhelmed and behind. I'm beginning to think that I should, at the very least, be one week ahead of you to say what has worked for me. But in truth, what works for me may seem ridiculous to you. And what works for you may be drudgery to me.
Get ready to dissect a novel. Image: Arallyn!
But anyway, I didn't start one week ahead. So I'm not ahead.

And I want to know what is working for you, because maybe then I won't throw the idea out.

It also kills me to not write something brilliant and well thought out. If I do that, however, I will be spending time on writing that rather than writing the novel. And the point is the novel.

So this week I am still focusing on structurebut a little differently from last time. I can't seem to easily figure mine out. Structuring a plot is the most difficult part of the novel for me. Character development is constant, maybe an obsession. The plot, though, is where things get hung up. Where I find I can't move on. (Plot. grrr... )

As we've gone over in Week 3, there are various shapes to novels, specific structures that some writers like to use, blogs to tell you what you should do, books to explain the process.

My question is how we know who to listen to? And why should we listen? Isn't the best thing to do to is to study the books we read and love?... not take short cuts by reading writing tips on Twitter and Buzzfeed lists.

This is not a quick fix to writing. If we really want to understand the novel and how to write one, if we really believe in our story, then we have to study the works we love rather than passively read them.

For the first few weeks, we all focused on a novel that was similar to our own. So far we have:

  • read it for pleasure, while noting for suspense, what keeps us interested, and what we skip.
  • looked in detail at its first chapter and each of the scenes within that chapter (and, possibly, first chapters of other novels)
  • created a visual representation of its plots and subplots

Now we're going to really dig in. I am borrowing from Cathy Day's idea of storyboarding, and doing something I have always wanted to dodeeply the novel, examining how it works, and exploring how it could change. I'm giving you summarized directions here, but you can read the entire post on the Storyboard Class on Cathy Day's website.

For this week there are two things to do: 

First, storyboard the novel that you read:
In Week 2, we each looked at the first chapter of the novel we read and dissected it scene by scene to determine, who was in it, what happened, where it happened, and what narrative devices were used (summary, dramatization, direct narration, internal monologue, description, etc.)

This week, we will: 
1. Do the same for the rest of the chapters. Yep. Every scene in every chapter.
2. Color code, if it helps. It does for me, especially when looking for how the subplots work with the overall plot.
3. Figure out the major plot points of the book and narrow them down to between 3-8 critical pointspoints that:

  • are surprising
  • are huge
  • make a change in the action of the story
  • create sympathy
  • make things seem insurmountable

Mark those points. Choose a color specifically for them.
4. Put the cards out in order, chapter by chapter, and determine which chapters fit into each act, whether you are looking at 3 acts or 5 acts. Even the 8 point arc will fit into one of these.
5. Rearrange the cards in another order. How would the story changed that order? If you omitted certain ones? If you changed an impressionistic novel to chronological order? Take a look at how Cathy Day did this (item 5). This link will also give you an example of how she dissected the Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, using color coding.
6. Lastly, what does this process teach you about your novel structure? What did the author do to keep you interested in the middle? To build suspense or tension? To resolve the climax and build a satisfying end?

Item number 2 for this week: Write 2500 words. Keep going.

And write it by March 29th, when Week 5 begins.

Love your story.

Coming in a little late? Find out about the 13 week challenge here. And see the first week's activities here.

Subscribe to get posts directly, or check back on March 29th for the next installment. 

No comments:

Post a Comment