Monday, September 15, 2014

Look For Patterns - More on novel dissection

I am still busy dissecting novels right now. I have a couple of authors interested in trying their hands with other genres or simply looking to expand into other publishing houses. As I have said before, I make them take the time to really learn those lines and figure out all of the little nuances that house uses. Although this is a great skill when you want to make a move like this, it is also something you can do with your own writing to identify what works and doesn't work with your stories.

I know authors get very frustrated when editors and agents don't read your entire project. We hear it over and over again. "If you would just read the entire story, you would really fall in love with it." While this might be the case, one of the biggest reasons we don't read the whole thing is the partial has told us a lot about your writing. Why? We write in patterns.

You see, everyone has a specific way we do things. In many ways, we are all a little OCD about how we run our lives. We get up the same way every day. We have a pattern to how we do things around the house. The list is endless. And when things don't go right in our day, the odds are, the reason things fell apart is that our pattern was thrown out of whack!

Writing works the same way. You have to really watch for it and keep your mind open, but the odds are you also write in a particular pattern. Sometimes that pattern works, but sometimes, it might simply be the pattern you are using that has been the result of the piles of rejection letters you are getting.

We see writers all of the time submit a project that isn't right for us. In this case, let's say that the story lacked a depth of character development (which is something I see a lot of). So the author goes back to the drawing board, creates a new character and a new book and resubmits the project only to get the same comment back. So what happened? The author added more "stuff" about the character in the book. Each chapter was longer by several pages to get that depth in there - and yet it wasn't enough.

It all comes down to the pattern of the writing. Just adding more doesn't always fix the problem. Now in some cases, this might have been all we needed to see the depth and we would have asked for more than a partial and kept on reading. But if the problem is still there, it probably has something to do with the pattern of writing. In other words, the author just did more of what he or she was already doing and not breaking the pattern of "how" he or she was writing it.

As I said, this takes a lot of work and you have to keep your mind open to it. As you write a story, or anything for that matter, you have to pay attention to how you are starting things, how your are finishing things, and how you are phrasing things. You have to watch the structures you are creating and the words you are using. Don't just focus on the individual scene you are working on, or the paragraph you are writing. Is this something that you have found yourself doing in every paragraph.

I work with students in English 101 classes and their writing and they just don't see it until I point it out to them. They have all had Jr. High and High School teachers pounding the infamous 5-paragraph essay. Although there are some things that work with this formula, it isn't going to work for everything we do in writing. But when you start looking at their essays, you notice that pattern showing up time and time again. The biggest is their transitions, which they always put as the very last sentence of each paragraph or section. "We have now seen how Henry Ford created the assembly line and now we will look at how it was implemented in the work place." Their next sentence which starts the next paragraph. "After Henry Ford created the assembly line, he attempted to figure out how to use it in his work place." Arrrrgggghhhhh!

This problem showed up simply because the author was not thinking about what he or she was writing. Once they finished up that last paragraph/section, it completely disappeared from the brain. That section was done and now it is time to think about the next section. But now we are into that patterned writing.

As I said, I was doing a little of that dissection with a particular publishing house and watching how this publisher's top writer structured things. It is clear, in this case, the author was working with a pattern, but the thing that was selling were the "witty interactions between the characters" and the "scenes that were really funny to read." Plot? None. It was simply this pattern of putting one witty scene in front of another one. In fact, I could rearrange those scenes in any order I wanted and still have the same story. Now, how do I know this is a pattern? I picked up 5 more books by the same author. These were not all part of a same series, but all published by the same publisher. All did the same thing.

When you are dissecting like this, if you think you find a pattern or an idea of what is working or not working with any story, stop and look for that pattern. Pick up something else. Read in other places in the story. Is it still happening? If it is, then start asking yourself if this really works or doesn't work. You may have just stumbled on the key to your own success or struggles.

No comments:

Post a Comment