Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Learning From Other Forms

Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting and Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish (Write Great Fiction) One of the classes I am teaching this semester is on story structure. Yes, we spend 15 weeks on nothing but that! I guess that's a reflection of how important I think it is, but also a reflection on how often I see it as an underlying fault in much of the writing I have to assess. One of the books I use a lot is Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting and Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell. It's clear and well laid out, and has plenty of useful advice.

There are other books on plotting that I use bits of - The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler is one that deals well with using the hero's journey as a structure for films. Story by Robert McKee is another screenwriting book that is just as good for novels. And this is the thing - a lot of script books are valuable for novel writers because they tackle the issues to do with structure so clearly and so well.

We often talk to students about not confining your learning of writing skills to the one genre or form you want to write. Novelists can learn a lot about structure from screenwriting, but they can also learn a lot about dialogue. Studying poetry and having a go at writing it can teach novelists a huge amount about imagery and making the most of detail and description. I learned quite a bit about researching my fiction through books on nonfiction writing.

This week, my fellow teacher in story structure pointed out something I'd never thought about before (thanks, Michael!). He said that when you write a film script, you usually write a treatment first, or as well, and that of course a treatment is presented in a certain format (present tense, for a start). But he also made a great point about how to use it. If your script needs work, go back to the treatment and work on that first rather than messing around with the script itself. That way, you can easily see in those 12-15 pages where to change things, and experiment a bit, without making a bigger mess of the script itself.

I had been talking about outlining for novels, and of course the same thing would apply. Rather than struggle with the 300 pages of your novel, first go back to your outline (or synopsis) and rework that. If you've written it properly, it makes the revision so much easier. As I outline via diagrams, this would be really useful for me. This is what I love about teaching and writing - there is always something new to learn, a new idea or method that someone suggests that just might be the key to a problem you're wrestling with. Nothing is ever wasted!

1 comment:

job said...

Thanks Sheryl
A great lead. I can never seem to get enough of hints on technique - can't wait to try a few new approaches on my current project