tcastleb: (Man)
( Sep. 5th, 2006 08:59 pm)
I've been skimming through a book of essays by Samuel R. Delany, "Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary." Very, very interesting. One of the most fascinating is "On the Unspeakable," which is built like a mobius strip. It's written in two columns that start in the middle of the sentence, and when you get done reading the column on the left for several pages, it flows directly into the column on the right on the first page. Cool, huh?

I'm off to the library tomorrow, and have already been checking the catalog online to find out which books I want. . .I'll be getting a few of Delany's. And one of them, Hogg, took more than twenty years to publish because it's extremely graphic. I think it makes OrossyX sound very, very tame. At the end of one of his interviews regarding that particular book, he says, "I don't mind saying, though, that two dozen years ago when I was writing it, Hogg certainly felt new. But that's the illusion all writers need to put down words and finish their novels. (To appreciate a book richly, posibly readers need it too.) If it hadn't felt that way at the time, I wouldn't have been able to write it." [oddly, this interview was arranged by the professor at SDSU who rejected me for an MFA.]

In his appendix, dedicated to intermediate and advanced writers, he's getting into some rather deep thoughts about structure. Here's a couple of good quotes: "Plot has no autonomous existence . . . No narrative unit necessarily corresponds to any textual unit. Plots are always and only composed of synoptic units." And, "What we call 'plot' is an effect produced by (among other things) structure. But many, many different structures can produce the same plot."

He quotes a riddle to prove his point: "From the following account of the plot, identify this classic American Depression film: 'An unwilling immigrant to a New Land of Opportunity, a dissatisfied young foreign woman kills an older woman whse face she never sees. After she recruits three equally dissatisfied strangers, together they go on to kill again . . ." Answer at the end of the post, if you can't figure it out.

And later, a scary paragraph to think about: "But while writing, the writer must constantly be thinking such thoughts as: As I write this section of my story, is there another section that must be more or less the same length (or much shorter, or much longer) in orer to balance it? Given the feel of this section, is there another section that, for the story to be satisfying, should have the same feel? Is there a section that must have a markedly different feel? How does this section differ in feel from the previoius section? How should the next section differ in feel from this one? Finally, and perhaps most inportant, how does a previous occurrence cause the reader to regard the one I'm currently writing about?"

A lot of it, I think, is a feel thing. Structure goes for more than the entire book or short story; it goes as deep as a single sentence within a paragraph. I can't say if this is a learned or absorbed thing to notice, but I think musically-inclined people have a better sense of the feel. We know when we've been "hearing" the same sentence structure over and over, and when we need to break it up. We know when it's time to add some action, or if the end of a scene feels finished. (At least, I like to think I have a good idea of those things.)

But this is me, who likes to build jigsaws without looking at the picture, which means piece by piece, and I don't notice the whole picture until I put in the last piece. It's hard to step back and look at the novel as a whole, especially when we read and write word by word and page by page. I mean, I have the plot details down, who did what, what needs foreshadowed, what makes logical sense for all the actions, but structure? I don't even write chapters. I write scenes that add up to a whole book.

Delany gave a few examples of books, including the Tarzan books which all had the same structural formula for chapters: villain, Tarzan, villain, Tarzan, and so on until they both met in the last one. Also, he said don't betray your reader by changing the structure in the middle of the book. Like, don't alternate POV's between Tom and George for ten chapters then suddenly throw Betty in there. The readers can read around it if there's enough textual things to carry it, but there's still a sense of unease.

It would be a cool exercise to go through books and chart them for structure. For instance, POV shifts, scenes that end in a cliffhanger vs. softer scenes, length, etc. Delany says structure can precede much of the plot as well as control it. For me, that idea goes back to the feel thing.

It's something I'll have to look over; right now, I've got a couple POV scenes with my villain at the beginning, and then none until the very end of the book. Thinking about it now, I could probably take them out and not lose anything, since they're mostly to show character. That, or I figure out how to add him in at the same intervals, or alternate my two main protagonists with secondary characters at certain intervals, which seems more likely at this point, since I need their input too.

Anyway. Back to work.

* The Wizard of Oz


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