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.