Last night I ended up getting a good knowledge of the many traffic lights along a 15 mile stretch of the A41 by crawling along at about 5mph. This was due to all the traffic coming off the M1 due to an overturned lorry blocking two lanes. I also had toÂ take a last minute diversion because I realisedÂ Arsenal were playing at home in the Champions League and my direct route down into Islington via the Holloway Road was going to be flooded with Gooners.
In the end IÂ was pretty brain dead by the time I made it to the class– about 45 minutes in. However, it was a class where everyone (except me as it turned out) read out their synopses and deconstructions into chaptersÂ of chosen novels. There were some quite interesting observations about variation in terms of narrative time (one chapter describing a few minutes whereas the next might describe 10 years elapsed time). Guy had one of the most interesting approaches (unfortunately I’ve forgotten the book he chose) as he broke the chapters down into a spreadsheet analysisÂ with stark plot event, POV, time, setting and so on in columns. This is something I’ve actually done myself with the novel that I have in progress — a list of completed chapters and a list of chapters to write. It’s useful as it really boils down the plot to basic events. I distil about 1,500 words into a sentence ‘Declan rescues Frances from a car and discovers her self-harming’, for example. (I’m even thinking of being really techie and putting the chapters in an Access database so I can somehow re-arrange them at the click of a mouse and do all sorts of clever things like analysing dependencies. On a related note, MS Project could probably be very useful for plotting a novel with its Gantt charts and resource allocation interfaces.)Â Guy also realised that his chosen (mystery) author always used the same structure within a chapter — establish a setting; introduce characters; have the characters ruminate over what has elapsed since the last chapter; then some action begins. Although it might seem repetitive he said it wasn’t really noticeable in the book.
I hadn’t properly prepared for this so was quite glad when Emily forgot to ask me for my thoughts. I’d looked at three fairly conventional narratives at a high level and may do the exercise on these as Emily suggested. The first wasÂ Ian Rankin’s ‘Exit Music’Â to see how a detective novel is structured with all its clues and red-herrings. The second was Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ which is cleverly plotted with mysteries created for the reader along the way and everything resolved in the denouement. I would also have mentioned Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ — see below on Historical Fiction — where she uses devices like the cast list for each section so the reader has an artefact at the beginning of the novel that exposes its structure quite openly.