Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Two part structure

As I was drafting, there was one way in which my experience was paralleling the advice of the experts, which gave me some comfort.

Jane Smiley in Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Novel talks about how at around the 60 percent mark in most novels it’s common for the story to fell like it’s taking a deep breath, gathering itself up and starting to move with more deliberation toward it’s conclusion.

When I read that, after I had been writing my first draft for awhile, I realized that the two-part structure I was using naturally set me up to do almost exactly what she was describing. I always knew that I intended to bring my main character to a crisis point mid way through the book that got resolved but at the same time complicated the larger conflict and that put the character in a different light. I imagined that sub-conflict as almost like a novella on its own and the rest of the story that would follow like a sequel, picking up the character at a later period of time.

If you’re familiar with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, you might have a sense of what I mean. Part I in that book is a complete long story in its own right, a lot like James Joyce’s “The Dead,” but it is also a necessary piece of the larger story that unfolds in the rest of the book.

So I began to imagine the novel being two parts, the first part concluding with the crisis and resolution in my sub plot and the second part naturally concluding with the major climax of the story. And I always felt that part one would take about two-thirds of the total book to spin out and that part two would be the last third of the book.

When I finished part one and was planning part two, I could feel the shift in tone and in pace. Things were going to start happening more quickly, the chapters would have more numerous and shorter episodes in them. The book took on a different “mouth feel,” as the gastronomes would say.

I was right at the 60-65 percent mark and it was just like Smiley had said—the story was gathering itself up to make the rest of its march to the end.

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