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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Putting together a story

Although not everyone will agree with me here, the truth of the world is that there is not just one way to write a story, or in particular, a novel. In fact, there are no right or wrong ways to write one. There are, however, good and bad ways. And if you want to get published or are a beginning writer, there are some standards and practices that are generally adhered to.

One of these is described in a book, Scene and Structure: How to construct fiction with scene-by-scene flow, logic and readability by Jack Bickham. In my research, I have found this to be one of the most commonly used strategies for writing a novel, a tried and true method. If you follow this method, and are a decent writer, and can dedicate time to your craft, and are willing to rewrite many, many times, then you just might get published. Only after you have mastered your story telling should you deviate or alter this formula. And a formula it is.

The idea is that an entire book is broken down into 2 parts: scenes and sequels. Jack's naming convention is fairly poor. I am currently an engineering student (that's right, I'm going back for a second degree) who loves Physics. So allow me to.. improve upon these names. And this is my blog and my writing, so I'm allowed to mess with it as I please. No offense, Mr. Bickham.

Here is the forumla for writing a novel separated into more easily understood parts. A book has two things in it that follow each other: Action and Reaction. Why he named them so poorly, I will never know.

An Action is a scene in the book in which something happens to drive the plot. This usually involves physical action and/or dialogue. There are many good rules on how to make Action work. It is essentially a mini-story in and of itself, with a goal (plot), a protagonist (the character who has the goal), and an antagonist (the character who wants to stop the protagonist; this can even be another protagonist). I say "character" here because in stories, characters can show up in a variety of unusual skins, such as a phobia, or a runaway truck. You don't want to end this mini story happily, so you have to know what the consequences are for failing. Sometimes, however, you can indeed let the hero get his goal, only to find out it wasn't what he was expecting (What do you mean this isn't the Mona Lisa? And why is there a map drawn on the back?).

But the structure of Action aside, we then follow up with Reaction. This is, quite literally, the reaction to what just happened. This starts with emotional response(s), physical response(e), then leads into logical thought. Again, I will not get into the details. But this is generally how we humans act when we are put up against something unexpected. And, just like in the laws of physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If your character just lost his jacket, make him react with an appropriate amount of emotion. If he lost his house or his wife, make sure the reaction fits. But this doesn't fit the size of the loss, it should fit the size of the loss for the character. If the Hulk loses his jacket, he might level New York. However, if a a serial killer just lost his job, house, and wife, he might not show hardly any emotion. To him, that isn't what is important. If you took away his bracelets of souvenirs, or let his kidnapped girl escape, then he might go on a killing spree. Keep the character in mind at all times.

Here, Bickham includes decision. I like to keep it a little separate so that it is easier to keep track of. Decision follows the logical thinking that just happened after the emotions subsided. "I lost my jacket, now what? I need that jacket or my wife will kill me. I suppose I could go buy a new one, or I could try to get my old one back..." Decision will lead inevitably to the next action, thus keeping the plot moving. Because what is integral to every action? It must move the plot towards the ultimate goal. And usually the next action is bigger than the last. Remember, however, that the decision may be a very easy one. "I have to go save Penny from the evil overlord or else.... she'll die!" Yeah, rest assured, Penny, for most characters there really isn't a choice here.

So this Action/Reaction or Scene/Sequel type of writing is pretty powerful stuff. I ran across it while reading the blog of a well-known author, and started to look into it a little deeper. I have not written a novel as of yet, but I am beginning one. And I think I will be trying this out from here on in. There's a lot more to it, so I recommend picking up the book or doing a google search for it, if you want to know. As for me, I will be keeping you all posted as to how this is helping my story progress.

And if you are enjoying my "How to be a thief" story, do not worry. I have not abandoned our friends. I have simply taken a break. You will see what happens next, trust me.

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