Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Structure: a beginning, a muddle, and an end.

At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence not only can you see ‘David’ but also several of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures.

An assumption I had always held about sculpture was shattered the day I visited that gallery: I had always assumed that a sculptor would chip away at the front of his slab of marble, then gradually move round it, whittling it down to a figure. Not so Michelangelo- He worked from front to back- and the unfinished pieces look as if all you have to do is to break the remainder of the ‘cocoon’ from aroud them to reveal a complete statue.

Some writers work that way. Stephen King, for instance, starts at the beginning and writes until he gets to the end, developing characters and situations naturally as they emerge.

I don’t think that I could write that way as long as I’d got a hole in my **** (or, for any American readers, ***.) I’m more of a potterer around the marble with my chisel sort of writer- I may start at the beginning, but in my mind I have scenes from the end or half way, and I need some sort of structure- loose as it may be- to hang the story on- a plan, an idea of major themes and significant scenes.

I don’t mean anything too complicated, and it doesn’t even have to be written- especially not on stone, so that once the characters start to find their feet they can run if they want to.

Having a structure can help when you hit the block- you might be getting bogged down with an earlier part of the story, but feel inspired by a theme which has flashed into your mind from further on. I would recommend that you go for that, write it (In these days of Word Processing it will hang around for you below the earlier pages until you catch up with it) then return to where you got stuck, refreshed with a dip into your creativity. Usually I go back to the sticking point after this and find that it is so below the level of what I’ve just been writing that I just delete it and start again.

And what about chapters and where to end them? Remember: each chapter MUST add something to the story- either in moving the story on or revealing something new about a character. If it doesn’t, you might as well get rid of it. And try to end your chapters with ‘page turners.’ Although my last posting was partly a bit of fun, there is something to be learned from an aspect of Dan Brown’s writing which is shamelessly parodied there. You get to the end of a Dan Brown chapter and there is always something there you didn’t expect, or which makes you ask ‘what happens next?’ or ‘how do they get out of that?’

To my mind, a lot of Brown’s page turners draw too much attention to themselves for what they are, and I think that he produces tiny chapters in order to do this (Look at chapters 53-59 of ‘Deception Point’ for example.) But who am I to knock this? I have read and enjoyed all of Dan Brown’s novels (with reservations about the DaVinci Code because I am a qualified theologian and know just how much he twisted the ‘evidence’- but hey, this is entertainment, and his sales figures speak for themselves.)

The point is, if you want to know what a page turner is, just go through a Dan Brown novel and simply read the last line of every chapter.

And when you’ve done that, if you are a writer, go through the last lines of each chapter of your novel. Do they just fizzle out, or do they make the reader want to read on?

This is your homework until next time.

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