The First Ten Percent Of Your Novel — Carol Balawyder

ten-706887_1280In my last post I wrote about an article written by Jane Smiley, the acclaimed American novelist, on the Purpose and Practice of Revision This led me to her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel.

This is what Jane Smiley said about her book in We Wanted To Be Writers. com :

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, (which) is a book about the anatomy and the history of the novel. And there are two chapters in there called “A Novel of Your Own Part I” and “A Novel of Your Own Part II.” Half of the book is about analyzing the form of the novel and half of the book is a sort of lengthy bibliography of about 105 or 6 novels that I read in order to write the book. (Jane Smiley on teaching writing)

Smiley, has a distinguished teaching record in the department of Creative Writing at the University of California so it’s no surprise that in reading her book I fell into the student role with Smiley as my teacher.

With clarity and generous spirit Smiley shares her insights on what makes a good writer. 

Because I am in the middle of editing a draft of my own, I was most interested in how she approaches “bettering” her rough drafts, specifically the first ten percent.

You, as the author, have about 10 percent of your novel to show the reader “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when.” “How” is for the rising action… You have only a certain number of pages to get the reader used to you as a writer. The more you pack into those pages, the more likely the reader will trust you and be willing to go on to the rising action.

So, what about this first 10 percent? What exactly does Jane Smiley suggest one pack into these pages?

PLACE:Where is everyone? When is the action taking place?

TIME:How is time going to be organized? Straight, continuous chronology? Chronological but in forward jumps? Some sort of looping structure?  Backward?

What makes your protagonist worth writing about?

These are the kind of interesting questions which Smiley throws at you, the writer, to help you go deeper. Another question which made me sit up had to do with the last 10 or 15 percent of the novel:

THE CLIMAX.

So the first thing you are going to do is turn to whatever page comes 90 percent of the way in your rough draft…That one page of the climax of your novel can tell you a lot about both what you have done and what you want to do, if you let it. Reading it, and a couple of pages around it, is your first diagnostic. (p.233)

There is so much that I got out of reading studying 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel.

If you are in the process of editing a novel, I highly recommend that you have a look at this book, particularly parts I and II of the chapters titled A Novel of Your Own.

via The First Ten Percent Of Your Novel — Carol Balawyder

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