Reviewed August 16, 2003.
Bantam Books, New York, 1985. 225 pages.
Out of print, but available used from $4.50 on Amazon.com
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,
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
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
Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.
All rights reserved.
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