Friday, May 11, 2007

Book With Trish - Pt 10 - A Book Of Three Parts


So wanted to call this part of the workshop a Book Of Three Halves… Just to make you all think… But no, I’ll behave…

Alright, this is my personal theory on the way I’ll structure a book. You’ll hear me talking a lot when I’m working on my current story about reaching the *turnaround* which is a sign I’m on the homeward stretch and about to pick up speed as I race towards the end… But there are two sections before that in my mind…

So, so many people obsess about Chapter length (me included sometimes though I like to think I’m in recovery a little…) and having hooks at the end of every chapter to get the reader to turn the page. But the simple fact is it’s the characters and their story that will dictate the chapter length (to some extent), create natural hooks and therefore inevitably turn the page. If we as readers learn to care about them, if they become real to us - then we’ll turn the page because we want to know what happens to them next, right? We’ll have become emotionally invested… we’ll NEED TO KNOW…

So how do we create so real a story that our reader Needs To Know the ending of???

Well, for me, this means dividing the story up into three distinct sections –

1/ Set-Up
2/ Build and
3/ Turnaround (to the HEA…)

Set Up – This is the first third of the book, where I’m introducing the characters to the reader and to each other. I’m describing them, I’m letting you know how they think, I’m, ‘opening a window’ into their lives. This is where, if there is an external plot to bring them together, I’ll use it – but the chances are it’ll become secondary to the characters emotional development as I continue into the ‘Build’ section and by the time I hit the Turnaround, I’ll have either resolved or will be about to resolve that external element so that the focus is on the characters again.

The Set Up lets us see how the characters interact, it may hint at an emotional conflict that’ll become clearer to us by the time we hit the Build section or we may have the conflict clearly defined during Set Up so that the rest of the book becomes how it's solved… You with me? This is the meet – the first impressions – misunderstandings – pre-conceptions section of the story and for me, it’s the part of the story that can be reworked the most at the editing stage – because by the time I get to the end of the book I’ll know these people much, much better – so I’ll more than likely have to go back and layer in the things I’ve discovered along the way…

The Build section – this is where we should see the relationship growing between the characters – where we can see the falling in love process happening and we can understand why they feel that way. For me, this is often the section where we will have moments of fun or laughter, where the sexual tension will build, or where pre-conceptions are shattered as they get to know each other. If the conflicts weren’t clear in the Set Up then by now they’ll be more apparent – and may even be used at the end of the Build Section to increase the black moment in the Turnaround section. If the conflicts were clear already, then this is the section of the book where the characters will be torn between their growing emotion and the thing that is holding them apart – so that by the time they have hit the Turnaround they’ll either have been pushed apart by the conflict or they’ll feel the emotions so strongly that the conflict has to be solved somehow – usually by either sacrifice, a leap of faith, or by reaching a compromise.

So this middle section - often referred to as the ‘sagging middle’ - can be a bog filled with writing angst. If the conflict wasn’t strong enough at the beginning then we may run into trouble as we hit the part where these two are falling in love. And it may mean adding a few more twists and turns to this middle section…(for example – if you hit this point and scene after scene is two *nice* people chatting then you know there’s something up!) Alternatively if the conflicts were too much in the beginning then this may be the point where we struggle to see how these two can possibly get past it – which makes them falling in love implausible to the reader – right? (for example – if you hit this point and they do nothing but yell and argue and weep and wail then you know there’s something up!)

This is where the bricks in the walls that may surround your characters hearts should start to crumble. So there should be redeemable qualities to each of them. We should understand why they do and say the things they do, even if it’s still not plainly obvious to THEM… then we have to bring the whole *dish* to a boiling point – and serve it up…

In the Turnaroundwhich is where I normally pick up speed – things come to a head. There may or may not be a brief parting of the ways and then everything is resolved. Chances are, even if the characters may not have admitted it to themselves, we the reader will already be aware that they're in love and meant to be together, or at the very least well on the path to being in love. By now we will know the conflicts – what has held them apart – and we will (hopefully) care about them getting to that happily ever after point. Think of this part of the book being the crescendo in a symphony. Typically the turnaround will begin with the black moment – or at the very least one that’s a darker shade of grey – in other words, the conflicts will come to a head, or the very act of battling what they feel will lead to some kind of a breaking point. Here is where we know something’s gotta give, so that we can turn around and end with a satisfying sense of everything working out beyond the last page of the book.

This will involve one of three things I find – sacrifice (one or the other of the characters backing down and admitting the conflict they had needs set aside no matter what the cost in order to hold onto something so important) – a leap of faith (this is where one or the other or both chance a heart they may have had broken before, just this one more time, in the belief that they may indeed have found the right one this time) – or compromise (which may mean a combination of sacrifice/leap of faith and the resolution of an external conflict for the more important gain to be made) – at least that’s how I think of it anyway.

By the time we hit the Turnaround – no matter whether we’re plotters or pant-sters – the chances are we will have learnt something about our characters that we didn’t know before. This is always a good sign I feel, because it means they have become ‘real’ people and taken on a life of their own. It means that whatever new thing we’ve learned has happened naturally, as a result of the character development, so new info like that should never be ignored – in fact it should be welcomed! – and then layered back in when we go through the layering/editing/polishing stage…

So, Part Ten of the Workshop would be to think about where these natural changes occur in your story. Remember you’re only dealing with 50k in a Romance or a Modern Extra – so you don’t have a lot of room to dawdle! The most simplistic way of doing it would be to allocate a certain number of words/chapters to each section and then try and make sure you’re starting to move into the change as you get close to that figure. I have to say, that’s the way I do it – by the time I hit 35k I know I need to be thinking about the Turnaround, because I want to leave myself room for layering and editing on top of that last scene where I indulge both myself and the reader with a very happy ending and a sense of hope for the future!

But you may have a different method that works for you, a scene that will lead you naturally into the change over, or a plot point that once you’ve hit it you know there’s a change-a-coming … Like any writing tips they are just that – tips – and it’s up to you as the individual to find what works for you! By dividing the story mentally this way, I find it easier to keep my characters story arc flowing the way I feel it should AND it keeps me on track so I haven’t spent half the story setting something up or dealing with secondary characters to the extent that my word count is a runaway train!

As usual – any questions ask away – and next time in The Book With Trish series I’ll cover the topic of ‘Indulging The Reader’

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Trish, you're brilliant, I think I feel a trip to Dublin coming on for a workshop...I could set it all up for you and be your manager!!!Hmmmmmm...
x Daisy

Sue aka MsCreativity :-) said...

Wow Trish! Thanks so much for this. I'm about to hit the 20k mark and the walls around both my H/h's hearts are definitely starting to crumble!

It is so tempting to sit back for a while and let them enjoy themselves - but I'm scared that if I do this I'll end up with a sagging middle!!

On the other hand if I throw in too many obstacles too soon, I'm scared I might take away the reason for them getting together before they've even tried getting together, and the 'black' moment/turnaround will come long before I get to the turnaround section.

Oops, I'm rambling and not making much sense. I guess to sum up, you could say that I'm knee deep in that '..bog filled with writing angst...'!!!

Sue :-)

Rachael said...

Thanks again for your words of wisdom... especially those on the turnaround. I'm best at beginnings I fear and start to crumble at around 35k, so you've given me some things to ponder.
Cheers
RACH!

Trish said...

Glad you guys found it useful!!!

Y'know it's funny - but sometimes it's not til I actually sit down and write these things that I realize how much of them I actually do - every single time. So I guess that just proves that we all find our own way of doing things...

Even now, with Gabe's story I'm aware of the fact I'm in the BUILD section. This is where I have to show the relationship building and growing - and in a Modx you have to be sooooo cautious of this otherwise theres a danger of it becoming sex scene after sex scene. So already I've had to look at the first section and make sure I've peppered in some of the things I need to build on.... And with Gabe being so flipping uncommunicative it means I've ahd to be even more cautious...

Ho-hum... the joys of being a writer... ;)