Monday, July 21, 2008


My wife is in diamonds, and the funny thing about these clumps of carbon, is that uncut, they're fairly uninspiring. There's certainly no sparkle.

I said before how, if I started writing the novel today I would a better and more succinct novel - and I'm not in a position to put aside the previous year and a half of work. So what to do?

I took a week off writing, and made a list of the twenty scenes left in the book. Which brought me, after a couple of days of mulling on the matter, to the core of the story: which is not the core I thought it was.

Illumination! Fantastic. Which brings me to diamonds. NOTE TO SELF: I write best when I write as succinctly and tightly as possible. When the words are as finely chiselled as possible. When the story moves as boldly on from one scene to the next. It's an exciting thing for a reader, to follow a story that leaps from scene to scene like a mountain goat: rather than one that cow-plods from field to field.

It's quite a simple thing really, but very hard to have that level of control/condifence over the story and the characters to write this well. I was listening to Bruce Springsteen at the time, and was fairly inspired by his style of lyric, which is fairly distinctive in that his songs tell a story. Dont believe me? Have a listen Or here

If a song can tell a story, with a voice and characters and conflict, then why can't a novel?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Plotting, Part 2

Life has given me a handy deadline of six weeks to get to the end of this novel - and it's a target that's just possible to reach.

How to do this best, I wondered to myself this morning an came up with a plan. I will limit myself to 20 scenes to bring all my characters to the end of thier stories. Which means sitting down this morning and looking at the story, and looking at the characters and working out which scenes are the crucial ones.

In fact, this seems like a great way to plan a novel. If I was to start again, I'd spend a few weeks or maybe months writing about the characters: so I could get to know them and how they act in different situations. Then I'd plan out seventy - and no more than seventy scenes for the whole novel. Then I'd sit down and write them. You wouldn't even have to write them in sequence.

It seems so easy, doesn't it?

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.