Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Planning by Clockwork - N M Browne

How do you picture a year? A week? I’m very conventional in my imaging I think a week goes up hill, the hardest part being the steep scarp slope of Sunday night when homework has to be done and clothes prepared for the week ahead. Monday morning is pretty steep and then from midday Wednesday it is downhill all the way to the lush valley of the weekend which is delightfully flat. OK. Maybe I am barking, but I have always visualised time as terrain which I suppose makes it natural enough to visualise the terrain of a story as time or more particularly as a clock face.

A story is a circle where the end answers the questions asked by the beginning. Picture an old fashioned school clock – the kind that marks the minutes of exams and that interminable last period on a Friday afternoon. Divide the clock into quarters and you have the outline of a novel. First quarter is set up. The second quarter is the further development of key plot points with the half hour as the mid-point, the moment of deepest crisis, when all hope is lost. By the third quarter you may have begun attempts at resolution, usually foiled, which give rise to further problems but, however bad it is, by quarter to the hour (or soon after) you have to begin to move towards the resolution which occurs at the o’clock, the top of the hour, home.

This way of looking at a book is deeply ingrained in my head, even when I don’t actually plan a novel this pulse is ticking away at the back of my mind - time to complicate, time to simplify and finally time to take the story home. Barking. But I find it helps.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I don't imagine a week other than it being in a straight line; but a year is definitely in a circle, and corresponds roughly to a clock - like now, mid-August - is like standing at six o'clock looking across to February/March on the other side at 12. But come September, that usually feels like standing at 4 o'clock looking across at May as 10.30. Weird, I know!

But I've not thought of a story as a circle. Interesting.

Nick Green said...

I agree on the shape of a novel being one of complication followed by simplification, and that this change happens somewhere around the halfway point. But I'm not sure about the idea that the halfway mark is the moment of deepest crisis. Most stories seem to hit that shortly before the resolution. But I don't see a contradiction with this crisis following a period of simplification. After all, things can become 'simply dreadful'!

adele said...

At school, we used to have an A4 sheet, landscape, with a time table printed on it, divided into lessons, and that's how I still see the week. Monday morning top left, Saturday night bottom right. There was no Sunday.....but I mentally put it in on the other side of the right hand margin, in the space. Years I see as my giant calendar on the wall....still just one page and still going left to right and up and down. Nearly at the right hand margin already...YIKES!

Nicky said...

Well things tend to get worse after the all hope lost moment, but the characters tend to start responding at that point which means there is hope which may then be dashed : ) I like to make my characers suffer.