Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Chainsaw Method of Writing a Novel

Have a clear fall path:  You may not know all that will happen in the novel, but you should know where it will end up, or have a fairly good idea.  The fall path for a novel should target a tight space, say, between an orphanage and a basket of kittens.  In other words, the massive hulking whole must nearly crush but not destroy the story or its characters, and result in near-miss.  At first, the fall path may appear clear, but as the chapters unfold, items begin to gather underneath the drop-zone and thus rising action takes place.
Begin Cutting by Creating the Notch or Face Cut:  The opening chapters should mark the basic direction of your fall path, or where you are going.  These quick cuts must be remarkable enough that reader knows the shape of the characters before you notched them with face cuts.  Also, the initial chapters require action, not pondering souls.  The face cuts of a novel should be action scenes for several reasons: to show your characters in action, to resist digression, and to hook readers.  Actually, these three reasons are based on the same objective: to get the novel moving and the pages turning.  (Does not apply if you happen to be the next Proust or Dostoyevsky.)   The face cuts should also introduce plots from their starting points, which will start to converge when…
The Top Cut and the Bottom Cut Makes the Notch:  A large bite out of the tree forms a notch.  Suspense begins here.  This may be the end of Act I in a sense, because the novel has a large gaping wound in the side, and readers by now can see the branches moving and start to wonder when gravity will cave the trunk on itself.  But this is an illusion, as our lumberjack shows us – many cuts are still to come to bring this great plant to ground.  Once the notch reveals itself to the reader, the main characters or the main plots should have a nice conflict going.  Moreover, these two converging characters or plots (the “Top Cut” and the “Bottom Cut”) should extend from two radically opposed worldviews, such that the conflict is natural and opposing, if not altogether spiteful and nasty.
Try for a One Piece Slice: Make the meeting between the plots fit together.  There should be a silence in the air, and the tree should wobble.  Now is a good time to have some interesting minor characters lean against the tree, provoke the main characters, steal a few scenes, stoke the wind, and otherwise clutter the fall path with risk.  Perhaps a baby carriage is now sitting directly in the fall path, or a bulldozer is unloading from a flatbed trailer and crawling toward the tree with its pusher.
Making a Back Cut, the Third and Final Cut:  While the reader still observes the face cut, return to the story from the opposite side, and begin to notify them that the cause of the collapse is not coming from the expected angle, but from the rear.
The Falling Tree and a Felling Retreat:  The growing slice on the backside of the tree should produce creaks and groans from the trunk as the inevitable collapse begins.  However, the falling, like a tree, should start and stop, and start again, until it reaches a tipping point from which there is no return.  The final process of falling should be swift and devastating, a near-miss of the orphanage and the kittens.
The ending should be nothing more than the settling of leaves and then silence in the woods. 
Peter Anthony                           

No comments:

Post a Comment