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Archive for the ‘structure’ Category

It’s Happening

Three years ago, I read and wrote about a book which concerned itself with the process of planning and drafting a screenplay, Syd Field’s Screenplay. At the time, I read it with an eye to plotting in a novel in a regimented three-act structure just like a film. I had decided that this was the key to my first novel: if it’s a regimented structure, planned in advance meticulously, there is less possibility of failure or non-completion.

Between then and now, I have completed a Creative Writing MSc, and I finished the 25,000-word dissertation which accompanied that, along with a number of short stories. But after the MSc, life got in the way for a while. After agonising and mentally beating myself up, I gave myself a reprieve, and carried on plotting and planning and intending. 

I have not finished a novel yet. Emphasis on the ‘yet’, because a novel is what I am working on right now. In April this year, something happened in my life which seemed to push a ‘RESET’ button in my brain. Suddenly, I wanted to spend more time on my own. I was happy to stay home and miss out on a party every now and again. I wanted to write.

I re-read Syd Field, and plotted a novel from beginning to end, resulting in an 8,000-word chapter plan, one which is so exhaustive that I hopefully have no excuse but to continue until it is written. And then I started to write.

It’s been a slow process, and I’m nowhere near the end, but I’ve got a 20,000-word draft so far and I’m still going. I’m writing blind: typing madly, not re-reading, aware that if I look back and see the trail of terrible sentences I have scattered in my wake, I’m doomed. As long as I get the first draft on paper, I can fix it later.

For now, it’s write, write, write. I’ve set myself a deadline: first draft by November 20th. It’s a bit ambitious, so I might need to try harder to say no to the fun parties, and ask some friends to nag at me a little more (I respond well to nagging).

Here’s the great thing: it’s happening. I’m doing it.

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Over Christmas, in the normal lazy Christmas traditions, I was lolling around in my pyjamas watching wonderful films and drinking excessive amounts of wine, as one does. About halfway through When Harry Met Sally, during the scene where Harry and Sally are singing ‘Surrey with a Fringe on Top’ into a karaoke machine, I had a minor revelation:

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

I am probably stating something really obvious, but if it’s obvious to others, it’s not something I’ve thought about extensively before. There’s the scene with the karaoke machine, when Harry bumps into his ex-wife and her new partner. The purpose of this scene is to show the audience that Harry isn’t over his ex-wife, and that he’s embarrassed to be seen with Sally in this situation.

This scene could have taken place at any time and in any place: Harry could have been walking down the street, alone, on any nondescript evening. But, no: he’s having  a great day with his best friend, and he’s doing something which is a lot of fun, until he sees himself through his ex’s eyes and shrivels up with embarrassment. What’s more, the sheer contrast between the mood at the beginning of the scene and at the end is striking.

The writers have put the characters in a situation which is doing as much work to push the story forward as possible: we learn so much about Harry’s feelings for Sally, his feelings for Helen (and Ira), and the friendship between Sally and Harry, all because the scene takes place within a situation which can draw out these revelations, and showing not telling the audience.

At no point does Harry need to say ‘Gosh, I feel so awkward that Helen has a new partner and I am still messing about on karaoke machines with my mates.’  He doesn’t need to say this because the audience see it perfectly, mainly because of the choices made by the writers.

I think that’s very clever, and I hope to use this little lesson in my writing. Any other examples you can think of?

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