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The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work Paperback – February 16, 2010
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About the Author
ROBERT J. RAY is the author of eight novels, including the acclaimed Matt Murdock Mystery series, and has also written several practical writing guides, including The Weekend Novelist and The Weekend Novelist Rewrites a Mystery. A resident of Seattle, he runs writing workshops and formerly taught writing for the University of Washington’s School of Distance Learning. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association.
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In rewriting, Ray focuses on restructuring, not mere copyediting (aka line-editing): "The key to rewriting your novel is not line-editing, the key is fixing the subplots. If you fix the subplots, then the manuscript will shape up" (page 7). The assumption here is that the writer has already structured the main plot with care. Ray suggests many restructuring exercises such as making separate grids for each subplot. Throughout, he presents structural analyses of a number of novels to illustrate craft concepts. The novels include:
literary contemporaries such as
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler,
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys,and
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje;
literary classics like
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE,
THE GREAT GATSBY
and a few genre novels like "Gorky Park" and "The Eye of the Needle."
Ray also comments on the screen adaptations of novels and suggests the "Rewrite mantra: to find story secrets, study good films" (p. 35). In both editions of TWN, the short list of recommended books for novel-writing include Syd Field's "The Screenwriter's Workbook." Field's pioneering book, "Screenplay,"
popularized the three-act structure (based on Aristotle's "Poetics") and added two plot points, which he defined "as any incident, episode, or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction."
The second edition of "The Weekend Novelist" begins by noting: "Writing a novel in the twenty-first century is made complicated by the world of screens. It wasn't like that always....Screens have changed the writing world. When the writing world changes, the writer must change." To learn the new complications in the craft, I studied both editions of TWN.
In TWN first edition, Ray lucidly analyzes the fiction craft in one novel, Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist," a great favorite of mine ("Anne Tyler is not merely good; she is wickedly good," wrote John Updike). Study of this edition effectivley teaches many characterization techniques. TWN, second edition, expands "the plotting section ...to give you a range of choices for building your book. The basic concept you need to build a plot is architecture" (ix). The second edition presents detailed craft analyses of five contemporary novels, including two with cyclical structural design. The five novels are:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;
Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan;
White Teeth: A Novel by Zadie Smith;
and the two with cyclical design,
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho;
The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (film adaptation,The Namesake DVD).
Yes, the second edition does teach more complex plot-structures. Michael Chabon's "The Adventures of Klavier and Clay" is a great favorite of mine as I fully agree with his aesthetic that "a work of fiction must be first of all entertaining" (A recent conversation at UC Berkeley library). Another great favorite is Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake," especially its cyclical plot structure. However, if you are plannig a linear plot structure, the TWN first edition (now out of print) might be adequate.
The rewriting guide schedules 20 hours each weekend for 17 weeks for rewriting -- at least as many hours as scheduled in TWN for completing the initial draft. I found no particular merit in long sessions on weekends and reverted to the equivalent schedule of daily three-hour sessions.
Although "The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel" could serve as a guide by itself, it'll clearly be more effective as a follow-up to the second edition of "The Weekend Novelist."
--C J Singh
In the case study given throughout the book Writer X is taught how to rewrite his awful novel into a good one... by a woman who has never written a novel and doesn't even seem to like them. She writes screenplays. At the end the novel is abandoned altogether in favor of a screenplay, because once the movie is made publishers will be competing for the novel manuscript.
The author tells novelists to use a technique called a CUT TO to move between scenes. In his example Jane Eyre falling when Rochester's horse is startled at their first meeting is then CUT TO Jane rising to her knees CUT TO Jane helping him onto his house CUT TO Jane alone watching him ride off. These are not scenes. They are camera angles. If you are writing a scene you maybe ought to know what one is. This book will not help you with that.
Novels and screenplays are different. Readers read books for something different from a movie. Novels are not inferior screenplays that just don't know how to cut out all that exposition.
I felt that the examples given from maybe twenty or thirty different books (mostly those that have been made into films) was mostly to pad the word count. Or perhaps the author's system doesn't work in all of them so bits are taken from here, there and everywhere and presented as a treatment for all that ails every story. It was never made clear why they were all necessary.
The examples of "good" writing are truly awful even though they have the approved ratio of concrete to abstract nouns. Example (and I am not even making this up): "Kate reaches the foyer to see him talking to Clothilde. The maid's back is arched, her pelvis canted toward the visitor. The visitor looks past the maid. When he sees Kate his eyes glow. Kate feels stronger now."
He is not a stranger. Maybe He is the cat's father. He has no name. He is not having sex with the maid, despite appearances to the contrary. He is not a vampire. Kate is not healed of a mysterious illness by his magic eyes. And the common comma is not your enemy!
CUT TO reader tossing book into bin CUT TO reader taking up a novel CUT TO reader actually enjoying reading a novel. Who knew that could happen? Big twist, huh?
THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL is the sequel to THE WEEKEND NOVELIST, which I found quite useful. In that earlier book, Ray took the huge task of writing a first draft and simplified it by breaking it into 52 parts, to be finished in a year of weekends. He tries to do something similar here, but instead of simplifying, he’s made rewriting so complex no one will do it. If I were a new author, I’d find Ray’s method too intimidating to try. Now that I am a seasoned author, I just find it silly.
Ray’s rewrite plan has seventeen steps. If you write only on weekends, it will take about four months to finish. But even then, you won’t be done because at that point, you've only restructured your novel. Ray’s plan leaves only two weekends to polish the prose.
The main problem with THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL is that it breaks things down too finely. For example, Ray instructs writers to make a grid of every character who opposes the main character, detailing when they enter and exit the story, what their resources are, what object symbolizes them, and what they want. But really, only the last one is of any use. Once you know what the bad guy wants, and how it’s in opposition to the good guy, you know everything. This is just one example of the tasks Ray sets forth. Even if you had all the time in the world, there is no reason to do most of them. They are wasted effort.
I’m a person who loves story structure and loves rewriting. I color code my outlines and think of index cards as toys, yet I found THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL tedious in the extreme. I’d rather spend my money on a better book and spend my time doing actual, productive work.