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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****The Weekend Novelist

by Robert J. Ray

Reviewed August 16, 2003.
Bantam Books, New York, 1985.  225 pages.
Out of print, but available used from $4.50 on
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #4, Nonfiction Rereads

This is the book that got me to finally complete a children’s novel several years ago.

The idea of the book is simple:  There are 52 assignments, each designed to be completed in a weekend.  If you complete all of the assignments, you will have a book written in one year.

The first ten weeks are introductory and background work.  In the first four weeks, he starts you with characters, describing them and thinking about their back stories and their dreams.  The next six weeks focus on building scenes and dealing with the basics of setting, dialogue, action, point of view, and building chapters.

After that comes the writing of the novel.  He presents a basic plot structure with three acts and six key scenes.  The key scenes are the Opening Scene, the scene at Plot Point One (which finishes Act One), the scene at Midpoint, the scene at Plot Point Two (which finishes Act Two), the Catharsis Scene with the big climax, and the Wrap-up Scene.  In Weekends 11 to 14, he takes you through four different methods of working out your plot.

In Weekend 15, you start writing your book.  You spend the next six weekends writing your key scenes.  Then, in Weekends 21 to 31, you write the Discovery Draft of your book, focusing on one act at a time.

During Weekends 32 to 45, you write your second draft, the Meditation Draft, deepening your book and improving it.  Finally, the last seven weekends take you through your Final Draft.

Part of the beauty of Robert Ray’s approach is that he gets you thinking and writing about the end of your book all the way back in the plotting section in weekends 11 to 14.  He says:

“Beginning students in my writing classes have this experience:  They start out fast writing Chapter One; but before they reach Chapter Two, they loop back for a rewrite of the first paragraph of Chapter One.  Instead of writing, pressing ahead, they edit, fussing with words, fixing a sentence, poking at a metaphor.

“Some writers make it to Chapter Two before they loop back for a big, intensive rewrite.  Others make it as far as Chapter Three or Four or even Five.  As a beginner forges ahead, however, the pressure mounts, a nagging voice inside your head telling you to rewrite, to change those words.  This book is bad, the voice says.  Fix it now, this minute, or else.

“If you heed the voice, if you loop back, if you invest your time and energy in the first of the novel, you use yourself up.  You avoid some pain, sure, and those first few pages gleam with a high sheen, but if you spend yourself at the beginning, then you won’t experience the climax, the wonderful word-symphony of novel-writing. . .

“I see this happen all the time.  Beginners, faced with a highly polished Chapter One and no plot, toss the rewritten drafts into the closet.  Some, thinking new is easy, start another book; some try their hand at short fiction; others, those who have spent themselves, give up writing altogether.

“Don’t let this happen to you.  Writing is hard; writing is wonderful; writing is a craft.

“You can learn a craft.”

I’m reviewing this book now because I’ve decided to write another book, and I want to go back to this pattern.  I have to admit that the first book I wrote with this method did require many more drafts than the original three, and I’ve eventually discarded it.  All the same, it did get me to finish the book, when I had been spinning my wheels before that on the first few chapters, just as he described.

When writing a book, sometimes a dreadful impatience takes hold of me.  I want the book to be written NOW.  The beauty of this system is that you know, if you only do the assignments, you will have a finished book in one year.

Now, I don’t think this method will be as nice for those who, as described in Jane Yolen’s book Take Joy, like to discover as they go.  However, if you like a structured, organized approach, this is an excellent place to start.

I skipped the first ten weeks’ assignments this time, since I did background work on my new book during an online Writer’s workshop that I took.  I’m already on Weekend 14, and hope to be able to report by Weekend 52 that I have a book all finished and ready to submit to publishers.

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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