Book Review, Books!, Inspiration, Signal Boost, Weekend Writer, Writing

Weekend Writer: Narrative Design, or Chapter Four of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

Hey all, Dani here.

Well, another week has come and gone, and that means I’m here with another Weekend Writer post. I need to try and get some of these read through and prepped in advance, which will hopefully be a bit easier once I’ve finished with this book. It’s pretty chunky compared to the other writing craft books I have. But I feel like I’m learning a lot, and I hope that you are too.

It would be really cool for all of us who want to write creatively (whether that is poetry, stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, RPGs, video games, whatever) to be able to help uplift and inspire each other, and keep ourselves motivated to strive for our dreams, so I decided to start this blog series here. This series will be a lot of me working through books on writing and creativity, maybe doing and sharing some writing exercises, and possibly doing some writing based discussion posts. It’s going to be an adventure for sure, and I hope it helps you as much as it is helping me.

Wonderbook

Summary

This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

Praise for Wonderbook: 

“Jammed with storytelling wisdom.” —Fast Company’s Co.Createblog

“This is the kind of book you leave sitting out for all to see . . . and the kind of book you will find yourself picking up again and again.” —Kirkus Reviews online

“If you’re looking for a handy guide to not just crafting imaginative fiction like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, but to writing in general, be sure to pick up a copy of Steampunk Bibleauthor Jeff Vandermeer’s lovingly compiled Wonderbook.”  —Flavorwire

“Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss have created a kaleidoscopically rich and beautiful book about fiction writing.”  —Star Tribune

“Because it is so layered and filled with text, tips, and links to online extras, this book can be read again and again by both those who want to learn the craft of writing and those interested in the process of others.” —Library Journal

Chapter Four: Narrative Design

“Even if you write primarily by feel, having a better sense of narrative design can help you figure out how the pieces of your story should fit together.” –pg 133

What is narrative design? It is plot and structure (typically through the use of scenes). Let’s define these further though. According to this book, plot is a series of events that are usually related  through cause and effect, that hold the reader’s interest or in some way provoke an action. You know, so plot is “what happens.” Structure is the organization of the story to form a pleasing shape that is not random or arbitrary. This means that structure is “how it happens.” Of course, each writer has differing ideas for how to define plot, structure, and form.

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A traditional plot includes reversals and setbacks, discoveries about the characters, complications, and resolutions.

“Although there may be several classic plots and variations, each story can have a unique structure.” — pg 147

When it comes to plot diagrams there are a few typical ones: Traditional Freytag Pyramid, Bell Remix of the Freytag Pyramid, Three Acts, and Interconnected Complications. They are further described in the next photo, aside from the interconnected one, which looks like a string of Venn diagrams, honestly.

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The plot can be further developed by using plot devices, such as Deus Ex Machina, Macguffins, and Red Herrings. Of course some of these should absolutely be used sparingly. Do it too often and you can frustrate or annoy your reader.

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“Beats and progressions require continuity and exist because of cause and effect.” — pg 157

Structure is all about scenes, so let’s first define some important terms in this section. A scene is an architectural unit that expresses plot and structure. A half-scene is a mini scene, basically a few lines or a couple paragraphs that are embedded within a scene or a summary. A summary is used to describe actions or thoughts without any sort of dramatization, so telling instead of showing. Pacing is how slowly or quickly a scene or series of scenes spans across the story. Beats are micro cycles of ebb and flow, progress and setback within a scene. Progression is the ordering of events and the deployment of information across scenes.

 

This book also contains basic questions to ask at the beginning of your scenes (detailed on page 158), and basic questions for the end of your scenes (page 160).

There is also a delightful section about repetition and invisibility, how there are words and phrases used so frequently that the reader stops seeing them. These typically include things like he said/she said/the/a. So if you utilize the same scene or scene structure over and over, you risk having your reader become blind to that repetition and miss out on details. So, to keep the reader interested, vary your scenes and structure.

Oh, and in situations when you have multiple POVs, intercutting scenes can also increase the interest and the drama. By cutting at the moment of confrontation or just before one, and moving to another POV, you make the reader want to keep going so they can find out what happens. Of course with this setup, I’ve also found that it’s important for the reader to like most or all of the characters, otherwise they are likely to skip or skim past the POVs they don’t care about.

Also, when planning out your plot and structure, it is important to know what doesn’t need to be dramatized. Not every event needs to happen on the page. Maybe a scene is one that you don’t have the skills for (yet) and that is okay. Maybe you just don’t want to show the violence or sex on the page. That is also okay. If you need to cut a scene or chapter as a battle is about to begin and then you pick up the next scene in the aftermath of the battle, summarizing what happened, that it totally fine.

“Time in fiction is one of the most liberating, mysterious, and potentially ecstatic powers available to the writer. This expansion and contraction, compression or slow unpooling, is a mighty force working within your story. The supernova of a sun can be contained within a sentence of just three words, while a single line of dialogue can be made to span one hundred years. This, then, is the soul that drives our pacing–an invisible, omnipresent line of force that, drawn back on itself or lunging forward, sometimes simultaneously, forms the visible and invisible hint of both our mortality and our immortality.” –pg 173

Well, I can honestly say that the first chapter of this book was my favorite, because it focused on creativity, the abstract inspiration behind writing, but I’m enjoying these more technical chapters, and I feel like I’m taking a lot of notes for them, so that’s super helpful.

Where to Get a Copy

If my thoughts on this fourth chapter have helped you out at all, you can try picking up a copy of the whole book from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-a-millionBook Depository, or your local independent bookstore.

You can also check with your local library.

Links to Other Wonderbook posts

Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter 7 / Workshop Appendix and Additional Writing Exercises

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