I have been thinking a lot about structure recently and decided that more is better. OK, let me expand on that as it is – I realise – a little vague. I think I need to have a structure on which to hang my novels rather than letting them evolve in a haphazard way. Over the five novels I’ve written (if you include the wip which is about to enter 2.0 territory) I’ve tried pretty much every putting-a-novel-together method from detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown from the off to ‘ok I know where I’m headed, let’s see where the journey takes me’. And I think my optimum modus operandi is somewhere between those two. I need a structure tight enough to give me security but not so tight as to prevent the characters coming to life and surprising me. (Or me, frankly, having a better idea in the middle of the book and changing the whole planned course of the second half.)
I think maybe it’s a bit like poetry, which I’ve written for thirty years and more (dear God that makes me sound old!) entirely for my own benefit. Mostly I write in free verse and use rhyme and metre to suit my purpose but sometimes, if I really want to flex my poetic muscles, I’ll write a sonnet. I prefer the English or Shakespearian version (rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg) to Italian version (abbaabba then cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce). It’s a bit more like a short story with a twist at the end in that couplet.
I can’t say I’m a wonderful exponent of the sonnet but I do enjoy writing them. The discipline of distilling a thought or a feeling or even an event into those fourteen lines can be wonderfully creative for somebody who’s inclined to let things get a bit flabby.
Free verse is more flexible, obviously, and allows me to search for the refrain or the repeated line/image which is central to the poem and allows me to highlight it with rhyme, metre and repetition.
I think my novels need to be a combination of the two. I need anough form to make me think in a careful, structured way about what I’m doing – to weigh more easily whether things belong and to give me a means whereby the thing can be shaped into a lean, sinuousness. But too much form and the thing is constrained, there’s insufficient room to see those recurrent motifs, the call-and-echo between characters in the past and the present, the surprise burst which takes both reader and writer’s breath away.
It’s going to be an interesting re-write, folks. Watch this space.