My story genius friends,
I am finding this book to be very interesting so far, in spite of the fact that it does cover some ground I have seen in the rather vast collection of other books I have on this subject in my paperback, hardback, and Kindle library.
The part I like the most so far is the emphasis on building characters who have a change of heart as the essence of three-dimensional writing, as opposed to the two-dimensional writing of blockbusters and the Marvel comics approach to story. He is right. There is a lot of misguided advice that puts so much emphasis on the story/plot marvels of a two-dimensional "blockbuster" story without touching on the difference a great book makes—with a character whose heart and pulse and fear and longing and love we can FEEL.
I have been thinking a lot about this while I am revising my WIP and adding more to the layers of my main characters—what, for instance, are their flaws, wounds, hurts, habits, annoyances, desires, pet peeves, favorite things, preferences, regrets, dreams, attitudes, tics, repeated actions and so forth—and how do all of these attributes throw more subtle light on the plot, reveals, outcomes, etc. It is very painstaking.
At the end here, I will give a great William Faulkner quote I ran across and a link, but first, let me say that any number of books, blogs, etc. can give the bare bones of what an engaging and commercial novel has to have (by commercial I mean something an agent will look at and potentially take on).
A commercial novel DOES have three acts. It has a beginning, a middle, and end. It should be around 90,000 words. The first Act is about 75-90 pages, the second act about 180, and the third act about 75-90 more. Run out to 110,000 words at your own peril. Printing costs will go up after 90,000. It better be a masterpiece and you better be Stephen King.
However, that does not mean three acts is ALL there is. You can find 4 Parts if you want, or 5 Acts if you want, or 22 steps if you want—but all of this is just theory of plot. Tips. If the tips help you and fire your imagination, and tighten up the story with engaging plot points, great! If not, stick to the basics.
BUT, the most important challenge is to create a character who FEELS and who is challenged in her feelings and attitudes to the world, and who changes—someone who feels ALIVE. Otherwise we do not give a damn and the fanciest plot or special effects in the world will not save you.
That is what I am getting so far, and I agree with it.
Here is what Faulkner said (we are so fearful and numb we are losing the ability to write with feeling):
It is just as applicable today as it was in 1950.
On writing towards truth:
“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.” (from Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel Prize banquet speech)