March 22nd, 2007

Novel approaches

Yesterday, Laura talked about the spreadsheet she’s created for her novel, listing each scene and indicating with xxxs whether various themes and characters and subplots are in the scene, so she can make sure all the threads are woven correctly.

 I do something similar, but not as a spreadsheet. For some reason, it’s one of the few things I do by hand. I jot down the scenes sometimes down a page, sometimes across several pages turned horizontal. And I’ll redo this list over and over. If I change something then everything ripples out in a slightly different way, right? So I constantly need to chart the new ripple and see what that affects and so on. As Laura did, I do this only after I’ve written most or all of the book—which is probably a slow and backward to do this—but I feel too constrained by a set road-map to the story.

 The other big thing I do is note the emotional state of my main character (and others)—maybe that’s the same as Laura’s theme notation. Here, broadly, is the emotional arc, I look for:

 I’m usually looking for unhappiness in the beginning—something’s wrong with my hero’s life. Then a spark of hope or desperation that sets them off on their story journey. I especially want to see varying levels of hope and despair as they move along. This is the middle and there should be both victories and defeats here that keep affecting my character’s feelings and convictions. Otherwise there’s no suspense.

 Toward the end, there’s a “last straw” emotion that means they have to deal with the the thing they’ve feared or avoided or been unable to reach for most of the story. And then a moment of realization, conviction, decision before they can finally take up arms to defeat the antagonist.

 At the end, I return them to the world we saw them in at the beginning, but now their emotional state has changed for the better. If each scene isn't doing something to my main character's emotional/inner journey--well, I start tinkering!