2010 © by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick
Readers read for entertainment. Writers read for structure. Entertainment-structure, the great divide in the writing world. Readers get caught up in the romance, the mystery, the memory, the characters of what they’re reading. They give up—the famous ‘suspension of disbelief’—something in order to be entertained. Readers glide over the words looking for drama and memorable characters, something to talk about with other readers in a book club.
Writers look for structure. Writers want to know how the author put this piece together. Take an example from music, take Mozart. Mozart? Music? What does music have to do with writing? You can listen to Mozart in concert or on a CD and walk away feeling good because his music touches you. The composer, however, listens at a different level. The question becomes: ‘How did he do that?’ And the composer buys a copy of the sheet music, takes it to the piano, and analyzes it. The composer discovers that under the surface simplicity of the notes there is a vast structural complexity at work—Themes, variations, fugues, modulations—and each of those musical elements has a parallel in writing.
To make the shift from Reader to Writer, we suggest that you make three levels of analysis on your novel or your screenplay. Story Analysis, Structural Analysis, and Stylistic Analysis.
- Story: competition for the resource base.
- Structure: the arrangement of parts.
- Style: techniques and devices used to create word pictures.
Story Analysis starts by asking: What is the resource base? What will your characters die for? Kill for? Steal for? (Example: Cinderella wants the castle. To get the castle, she must marry the Prince. Before she can marry the Prince, she has to meet him. The only place she can meet him is the Royal Ball. Her main competition is the Wicked Stepmother, who has two daughters.)
Story analysis works Character and Setting, Motive and Back Story, Resource Base, Core Story, Objects, Point-of-View and the Sexual Triad. If you’re not familiar with these terms, buy a copy of The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel
Structure: an arrangement of parts. A structural analysis works Acts, Key Scenes (First Encounter, Page One and After, Plot Point One, Midpoint, Plot Point Two, Climax, End), Subplot, Secret, Subtext, Flashback, Character Arc, Closed Circle and Intruder.
Style: in fiction, style means creating word pictures. A stylistic analysis works the diction (concrete nouns and strong verbs) and rhetorical patterns like asyndeton and polysyndeton expressed in syntax: short sentences, fragments, chaining, and the long sentence release. A sorting tool like Operation Ratio (see The Weekend Novelist Rewrites for this) helps identify the prose modes that occur in fiction: narration, exposition, dialogue, and description.