Dec. 30th, 2004 09:22 am
lullenny: (eats)
[personal profile] lullenny
The following is an excerpt from Part III of the book Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern. The first two parts are very much worth reading as well. The book is available in paperback.


Structure refers to the overall design of the work. That often means plot. But it can mean thematic plan -- for example, having chapters from alternating points of view, or going back and forth between present and past time. Or it can mean the number and length of chapters or books ("books" in the sense of subdivisions within a novel). For some writers, it means the way that turns in the action create a framework for the narrative.

In fiction, scale and structure are intimately related. The shorter the story, the more structural freedom you have. Over a few pages your readers' attention can be sustained by a meditation, a monologue, a piece of resonate description. A short story does have a structure. It's like a ball thrown in the air, or in a more complicated story, like several balls thrown in the air. The arc of the story creates a shape that carries your reader through the experience of the story.

But when your narrative has accumulated two hundred or five hundred pages, an enormous amount of energy must go into structural considerations, with calculations and manipulations about plot, subplots, and entrances and exits. Novelists who are not interested in thinking about these problems may have to wait for their reward in the next world. In this one, agents and editors may tell them that they write well, are sensitive and perceptive, but somehow what is there is not a novel. Oh, it has wonderful sections and passages, but -- there's always a but. The manuscript lacks direction, they say, momentum, shape. It lacks structure.

Short-story writers are jewelers, sharpshooters, photographers, and jugglers. Novelists must be symphony composers, stage magicians, but above all, engineers and architects. Short-story writers can illuminate in a flash; they can hit-and-run. Novelists must create successions of mysteries and solutions, deploy chains of intrigants and cliff-hangers, develop momentum, sustain suspense, provide variation, and bring it all to a satisfying conclusion.

See Beginnings, Endings, Freytag's Pyramid, Novel, Plot, Position, Resolution, Short Story, Suspense.


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