Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to Structure a Novel

Some people use graphs to show how a novel should build and peak. Some think of concertos. Both these certainly have their uses. Structure is certainly something I struggle with - and hopefully next time I'm struggling I'll stumble upon this post and remind myself of the best way for me to understand how all this stuff fits together: Shakespeare, dear boy. Shakespeare!

By which I mean, Acts and Scenes.

I'm not sure how it works but maybe from my school days, of sitting in English class taking it in turns to read out that month's Shakespeare play, I seem to have absorbed some kind of understanding of what makes a scene. And then what scenes make up am act. And how acts work together - or build upon each other - to make a play. Or story.

And plan it out from the beginning, in acts and scenes.

Something that's true from my first novel is that I seem to work in chunks of about 30,000 words. Not that I get to 30K and stop, just that the seams of the novel start to strain and stretch at this point, and it's at this point that I tend to take those 30K out and look at them and fit them pack them down together with less air between them.

Actually I tried planning this novel out from the beginning. But my plan - like those of generals - did not survive contact with the enemy. But I do wish I knew then what I know now about the whole tale. I would have spent much less time on the beginning, and jumped ahead to the main grit. I've been pencilling in scenes I should have written into the first half of the novel, and just pushing along, assuming they have written.

Of course a lot of this will shake out when the first whole draft is written and then I can look at the whole lot - lay the body out on the slab in front of me - and I can cut away all the flabby and unpleasant flesh.

Lessons for next time? Plan as much as possible, and understand the story and it's affect upon the characters as much as possible before starting.

1 comment:

Andy said...

excellent piece of information. I was looking for some methodology and I think you've inspired me.