The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Note to self: think about book X

Forgot to say, I finally made myself start reading a book I've been assuring people I was going to read for 2-3 years now. Recently I even had to fork over a self-imposed fine of five bucks to a fellow writer for yet again failing to read it as promised.

So I finally started it, this book everybody's read and praised, and boy, does it suck. However, the more I think about it, the more I'm absolutely fascinated by it. Because the writer makes it work. Through sheer force of plot and structure, the story moves along pretty grippingly, even though if you look very closely, you can see that nothing's actually there. There isn't anything going on but people moving around from here to there, and some mysteries that aren't very interesting because who cares if they're solved or not?

But, wow. The structure completely hides all that; it misdirects the reader's attention and gives the impression of being a gripping, excitingly wild ride. I can see that it partly does so through the way it uses hooks, and also by the way it uses alternating narrators.

This is exactly what I need to figure out how to do for my former GN.

What's really got me super-zeroed in on it now, though, is realizing that one of the two POV characters has a negative goal. I think part of what covers that up is the structure and the constant updating and adding of hooks, but there's also an announced strategy. And here's where it gets even more interesting: the announced strategy makes no sense. But it doesn't matter, because it works anyway. You don't even notice it has no reason to be either a strategy or announced.*

The only reason I noticed any of this is because I have a plotting disability and was bored, reading. I can see how gripping the story is, but I'm not at all gripped. It's sort of like the little kid who can't enjoy a great magician's trick because he isn't sophisticated enough to understand that he's supposed to be following the hand gestures. Sometimes there are advantages to having humongous blind spots.

Sometime when I have a chance, I want to really dig into this, maybe even go through and make a list of every scene. I bet I will find that it's extremely screenplay-worthy, with every scene carefully designed and set like a stage, and with actors hitting their marks right as the curtains go up. I also bet that nearly every chapter will have a deliberately imposed ramp-up of a ticking clock, and there's something intriguing about the hooks, too--like, maybe there's at least one new one introduced in the body of the chapter, and then another, different hook hits hard at the end?

Also need to look at:

  • Which hooks are external stuff happening and which are internally-driven emotional cliffhangers.
  • How the chapters cut in and out to hide the relative passivity of one of the storylines.
  • How a passive character is given the appearance of being an active one.
  • Beginnings and ends of chapters, making note of transitions.
  • Beginnings and ends of chapter, for cliffhangers (I think some are actually dropped and never followed up on. But I'm not even sure! This is great!).
  • Beginnings and ends of chapters, as read sequentially rather than alternately. I'm interested to know what the author has chosen to skip as not-ramp-up-able enough. Because, you know, I think s/he was probably right, since the book works so well.

Forcing myself to finish this thing is going to be a chore. But I think I can learn a ton of stuff when I go back to it once it's read.

*Something that's come up in discussion with writer friends is this theory: An announced strategy doesn't have to really do anything in the story; as soon as the actual story gets started, the announced strategy can just disappear, and be naturally swallowed up in the bigger, stronger, "real" story without you having to deal with it. But here, it seems to me, the possibility presents itself that the announced strategy doesn't even necessarily have to arise from story. Which poses the question: exactly how far can you go with the artificial pasting on of stuff to keep your story moving?

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