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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Being my own Reader

I have just printed off my work in progress and have begun to read it as if I am a reader and have never seen it before in my life. This is a difficult task as from the outset I need to cast away all my knowledge of Restoration London, and imagine I know nothing about it except what I will find in these 300 or so pages.

In order to do this I have been treating the last few books I have read as if they were examples of my own work - to train the muscle into working - a warm-up if you like. In other writer's work I have been examining length of sentence, length of paragraph, amount of imagery, when and how the dialogue is integrated with the text etc. I am doing this to see whether it has an effect on the rhythm and feeling of the book, and whether the choices other writers make might work for me, or at least stimulate me into making more informed and better choices about my own writing.

For example in "Instruments of Darkness" the writer has decided not to start each chapter on a new page, but to let the chapters flow with only line breaks. The book is divided into six parts, so  the sections are headed with a Roman part number and a chapter number, such as III.4, III.5 etc. This has a particular effect in organising the book in a way it can be easily assimilated. At the same time the flow of narrative never stops, it hauls you along at a cracking pace, only allowing you to pause for breath at the section breaks.

So at the moment I am looking at structure and form in my book. My book also seems to fall naturally into sections, so likely it will have to be divided. But how the chapters might fall within that framework - well - there is an interesting question. Do I actually need chapters? What purpose are they serving? How long should they be?

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At the moment the book is written in a conventional way with forty chapters simply numbered, mostly ending with the end of one viewpoint and the beginning of another. But there are so many more possibilities! By the end of the week I might have sorted out a structure that actually reflects the book, not just arbitrary divisions. Meanwhile, I'd be interested to hear how and when other people structure their novel, or interesting examples of unconventional novel structures.


  1. Dee - I didn't structure either of my first two novels - I just let them unravel as I wrote them. No plan, no idea what was going to happen (probably no disicpline, either). The plot of my current novel takes place over a year, with sections each covering two months. I'm still not sure what's going to happen, but I do know when!

  2. Hi Frances, thank goodness there's someone else who writes like I do - I just sort of set off and hope for the best, but then later on I am left with a disarrayed muddle that needs to be coaxed into somethng coherent. But that way I retain my excitement, which I hope shows in the writing in the end.

    Interesting that you now have a structure with the new one. I think I might structure my next a bit more carefully to avoid the massive word wastage that I seem to get with the unplanned method.