This week I had to face writing again after almost four weeks off. I know from past experience you have to chain yourself to the desk. I have a new laptop, and therefore wifi access again (my old Dell had helpfully disabled its wireless card somehow - annoying, but invaluable when it comes to focussing on the task in hand). Now, once again I have the world's knowledge at my fingertips. As well as the world's emails. And the world's opinion on the latest episode of XFactor.
I know also not to expect too much. The first writing session after time off is going to be miserable. Constipated. Discouraging.
So I sat down expecting not to write much, but to reacquaint myself with my storyboard. I now have two - the one developing as the first draft in Scrivener, and the real one on my windowsill, which is of another story altogether. Well, not quite, but the real-life storyboard is my attempt to keep where I think this story might be going in my head, while maintaining where it has actually gone on my computer. I do this to avoid temptation to look back and edit - "don't look back and edit", as Noel Gallagher once sang - and turn into a pillar of salt (eeewoooghh! Toot the horn! Biblical reference! Who do I think I am, Jeanette Winterson?).
I'm about halfway through my story I think; maybe three fifths. Although three fifths would make me at the stage of the "spiral" according to FILM CRIT HULK, who lays into the what he sees as the "myth of the three act structure". (Is Hulk a he? Or an it?)
Anyway. I've always felt uneasy reading books about "story", as they tend to come from a screenwriting background, and novels are a whole lot messier than that. Most of these books cling to the notion of conflict as core to story, and this, I think, gives too much emphasis to a single plot, a line of action around which everyone dances.
HULK (if that *is* his name suggests conflict should exist before the action even begins, and that it is a conceit which brings it to the fore. His (its) suggested structure is as follows:
- Intro (natch)
- Conceit - an issue arises, eg Romeo falls for Juliet (despite the existing conflict between their two families)
- Turn - the issue gets worse and unbearable
- Spiral - everything goes into freefall thanks to the character's decisions
I like it because it sounds like a gym routine (with a slightly unexpected conclusion).
He (grr, it! the Hulk thing gets annoying, but stick with it) goes on to say an act is defined not by an end narrative goal, but by a character making a decision they can't go back on. This grounds narrative in character, not twists. I am very proud of myself for thinking of a plot twist, but it was satisfactory not because it was unexpected, but it made so much sense. Of course that's what the main character would do.
Which brings me onto my third reason for liking this article so much (and not just because of its iconoclastic attitude to the bibles of storytelling). The climax, he argues, is everything. It's the reason you're writing the script or book in the first place. What happens at the end is what the whole thing has been leading up to. I've written before about how much I like stories where you know what happens at the end, whether it's the restitution of the status quo in romances or comedies, or the inevitable death of the hero in a tragedy. The idea that the climax is more than just what you see when the dust settles is fascinating to me. It should be uncanny, something you watch unravel through your fingers.
Anyway, that refocussing on character and plot certainty helped me find my feet in my story after so long away. Thanks Tom for pointing it out to me.
I spent the day reading and updating my character charts, and then wrote for an hour or two, the beginning of a scene where my main character finds herself reflective and reflected. Out of that, I hope I shall find my next big decision for her.
Word count this week: 750 Total word count: 70,438 First draft: 60,422