Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?


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“Say,” said Pescud, stirring his discarded book with the toe of his right shoe, “did you ever read one of these best-sellers? I mean the kind where the hero is an American swell—sometimes even from Chicago—who falls in love with a royal princess from Europe who is travelling under an alias, and follows her to her father’s kingdom or principality? I guess you have. They’re all alike. Sometimes this going-away masher is a Washington newspaper correspondent, and sometimes he is a Van Something from New York, or a Chicago wheat-broker worth fifty millions. But he’s always ready to break into the king row of any foreign country that sends over their queens and princesses to try the new plush seats on the Big Four or the B. and 0. There doesn’t seem to be any other reason in the book for their being here.

“Well, this fellow chases the royal chair-warmer home, as I said, and finds out who she is. He meets here on the corso or the strasse one evening and gives us ten pages of conversation. She reminds him of the difference in their stations, and that gives him a chance to ring in three solid pages about America’s uncrowned sovereigns. If you’d take his remarks and set ’em to music, and then take the music away from ’em, they’d sound exactly like one of George Cohan’s songs.

“Well, you know how it runs on, if you ve read any of ’em….”

— O. Henry, “Best-seller”

I confess an ulterior motive in most of my reading list lately. It’s homework.

Normally I do not read much Stephen King, and as I noted, I more or less quit Koontz cold turkey seven or eight years ago. There’s also a review of John Grisham’s The Broker coming up soon (summary: much better than I’d expected, still not great), and will soon be slogging my way through Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (sic), doing my level best to overlook the atrociously turgid, clunky prose style (the major reason I never got through it before).

As you may have noticed from my King reviews, I am reading them rather critically or, if you prefer, analytically. My metiér is screenwriting. I can probably lecture on four-act structure (usually called three-act structure, essentially the same thing) in my sleep. But scripts and novels are different beasts.

My NaNoWriMo novel — my first novel — is not the purpose of this homework. As stated, that one is being written strictly for myself, to convince me that novel-writing won’t be a waste of my time (or anyone else’s?).

No, this is homework for my second novel, the still-untitled, still-unplotted Shanghai historical. This homework won’t consciously affect the plot — that’s going to spring from my usual combination of theme and subconscious direction (i.e., what “feels right”), with the added grist of the research and interviews I’m going to be doing thrown into the mix. But it will affect the telling.

Yes, I have literary pretensions, which you’ll see more than amply once novel number one is completed. But I’m no fool — after the one for myself, I want my books to be marketable. And, if at all possible, to make me disgustingly wealthy as well. (Given this blog’s rather limp traffic any time I haven’t had an InstaLanche, I realize that becoming the next King, Koontz, Grisham, or Brown is even less likely for me than for your average wannabe writer, but that won’t stop me from trying.)

So I’m looking specifically at chapter construction and the laying of hooks. I’m looking to understand how to make it a page-turner while keeping the hooks varied enough that it never feels repetitive. Much as I’d like to use it, if only because it seems like such a sure-fire technique, Koontz’s old hide-the-cookie gimmick simply won’t fit this story, at least as it exists in my mind right now.”Hide the cookie” is what I call it when the author does not reveal the motor of the plot until the end, or near it. E.g., I would ruin Koontz’s Strangers for you if I told you that it’s about how witnessing an alien starcraft landing in the nevada desert affects the lives of the dozen or so civilians who witness it. To say what happens in any of his books prior to, say, Dark Rivers of the Heart, is to undo the major source of suspense.

So, while the plot will serve the theme, characters, history, and the story in general, I want the chapter-by-chapter structure to pull the reader right through to the end.

That’s the best way I can figure to make this story appealing to publishers and, more importantly, readers.


Written by [IMH]

9 January 2006 at 10:46 am

Posted in General

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  1. Go Ian! I hope your projects turn out really good (and I hope you won’t forget me when you’re already up there and signing books and having press conferences and shit. Haha. Just joshing (but not about the fame thing :-))).

    Don’t strive to be the next thing King or Brown or Koontz. Be THE Ian Hamet!


    10 January 2006 at 12:24 am

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