Sunday, July 11, 2010

Develop Structure During the Re-Write of a Novel – No, Start With Structure!

I read the most incredible book review this weekend. And by incredible, I mean, "I don’t believe it."

Backstory:  [book title] was written a few years ago. It consisted of a series of exercises which if followed each weekend would guide the beginning novelist through the process of creating a novel. (The name of the book and author will remain nameless because I’m not supposed to say anything if I can’t say something nice.)   Anyway, [book title] sounds like the kind of book I'd buy, a how-to-write for a beginning writer.  You can't get more newbie than me.

Today, while waiting for the Jimmy Buffett concert to air on CMT, (I couldn’t get any free tickets either) I was flipping through the pages of the latest issue of The Writer and my eyes spotted the review of a new book that was billed as Part 2 of [book title] described above.

I said to myself, “Oh, good! It’s another how to write a novel book. I wonder if I’d like to read it?”

The reviewer wrote, “While [author’s] [book title] was aimed at aspiring authors, this companion book assumes a reader with a first draft in hand. You should be prepared to revise extensively by adding and recasting scenes, inventing backstories for characters, even exploring the roles that major objects play. [words followed about rewriting a novel using film structure.]

[Author] believes that story and structure (the strategic arrangements of parts) comes first, Specifically, he addresses writer’s tools, backstory and flashbacks, suspense, subplots – the story lines of antagonists and minor figures and seven critical scenes proceeding along the novel’s main plot….

The bulk of rewriting involves major scenes tied to the protagonist’s plot. Most readers will already place extra weight on the beginning and end, the climax, and the first meetings between major characters. Less familiar – but just as vital, [Author] says – are the midpoint – the central scene and “the heart of your novel”) and two “plot points” situated in the first and third acts.

[later in the article] Like any writer, [Author] makes some assumptions about just what a novel should be, stating that “you are rewriting a novel that must fight for space in a world of screens (TV, film, computer).” Thus, his advice tends to favor fast-paced, traditionally plotted narratives and near-cinematic prose.”

Whoa! Wait a minute! You don’t tell me about cinematic structure until I’ve finished writing my novel. And, then, you want me to tear up what I've just spent a year of weekends writing.  You want me to go back and write it again, this time using the cinematic structure you didn’t bother to tell me about in your first book. Author, doesn’t that seem to you to be a huge waste of weekends for anyone buying your current edition of [book title].

Author, if you think cinematic structure is the best way to write a novel, own up to it and publish a new edition of your first book to reflect it.

Stories need structure from the get go. Not as a rewrite step. I’m a rank newbie, but, even I get that.

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