Thursday, December 13, 2007

A New House

Posted by Lynne

I've never built a house, but I took a wonderful course on building a novel. When I was deep in to a revision of Life Without Summer, I took a course on story construction offered through Grub Street by the smart and talented Stace Budzko. It helped me then, but how was I to know that eight months later, as I delved into crafting my next novel, that things he taught me would flood into my mind with new relevancy.

The elements of our stories are not unlike those of a house. What we know about our characters--how they behave and misbehave--their desires, wants and needs are as important to the writer as the windows that allow light into the living room. Plot can be seen as the opening and closing of doors. Voice--the house's architectural style.

Having built and sold one novel already, I know that building a good foundation is critical to the novel's ability to stand out in the marketplace. For me, settling on point of view is an important first step in creating the right structure, telling the right story. Whose story is it? Which character(s) have the most to gain and the most to lose given the situations and complications I've chosen to write about? When I find the heart of the story, I know it. I love writing in two voices, so for me there is often more than one heart to consider.

At every stage of novel building it's important to use quality goods. For a writer, the raw materials are words. This time I'm finding it even easier to lay down the structure with care, partly because the more I write the more I fall in love with words. Though in truth, I'm confident, because I trust that even when a house is done, there is nothing wrong with moving a little furniture or hanging new curtains. Even brothers and sisters have been known to change rooms, and parents know when it's time to add a room over the garage.

Perhaps the single most valuable lesson I learned from Stace during that weekend in April relates to setting. I will be forever grateful to him for opening my eyes to the idea that setting can be compelling, not merely a backdrop "where characters do their thing". Whether you imagine the places in your novel as pleasing, forbidding or somewhere in between, setting embodies all the places that influence the way your characters see the world and how they respond to it.

Andre Dubus once said, "We enter the fictional world through memory". During my weekend course, Stace urged me to take every opportunity to pry, eavesdrop, stare, and otherwise gather the material I'd need to build a story. Little did he know that the perspectives he offered, I would remember, serving me well in my building projects down the road.


Lisa Marnell said...

Wonderful analogy. I think my favorite part is thinking about moving furniture and putting up new curtains.

Is it okay if part of the house burns down in a fire and you build a game room where there had been a garage?

(I fear that's what I've done)

Carleen Brice said...

I'm writing 2 POV right now and it's kicking my butt. I'd love to hear more about your writing in 2 voices...if you feel like it.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Lisa,

Thanks! Not only can you build again, you can even turn a New England Farmhouse into a ski chalet!!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Carleen,

I would love to talk about writing in two voices. Life Without Summer is told from two first person points of view and my WIP has one in first, and one in third. I will certainly dedicate a future post to this topic. Thanks for asking!!


Anonymous said...

I am watching this space for the two POV's.

Whose story is it? I never thought I'd ask myself the question. But as I review my novel; I am beginning to ask this of myself more and more. Is my MC really the MC.
I would kill to find out the answer , right now. For now, I'll stay guilt and crime free and just keep on plodding thru.

Larramie said...

In other words, Lynne, revising is merely another term for redecorating? Sounds like fun and, better yet, it's free. ;)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks Usman. I will surely post on writing in two voices. Stay tuned.

And Larramie, redecorating is a much less daunting term than revision. Here's to curtains and pillows!


John Robison said...

One important difference between building novels and building houses is that the building of houses is goverrend by a building code, which is enfored by building inspectors.

It's hard to imagine novel writing ever becoming subject to a code, at least in this society.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hello John,

I love your extension of the analogy. And indeed where would artists be with building codes? Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insight.