Friday, February 03, 2012
The Method to My Madness...Or Do I Mean the Madness to My Method?
My last post provoked some questions about why I divide my manuscript into four parts. I haven't always organized my WIP (Work in Progress) this way. When I first started writing (back in the Dark Ages, with a computer that had to go through DOS and used two five-inch floppy disks), I saved each chapter on my computer in a separate file. It was a royal pain, because chapters are artificial, fluid things, and I was always having to shift scenes from one file to the next.
And then, about fifteen years ago, I started reading books on screenwriting (this has since become popular, but at the time no one was advocating it). Screenwriters trained in the process popularized by Syd Field divide their stories into three parts: Beginning (first quarter), Middle (second and third quarters) and End. The Middle is bisected by what Field called the Midpoint, where typically something BIG happens to change the direction of the story. Something significant should also happen at the end of Part One and of course at the end of Part Three, to provoke the Climax.
So, since my books are usually around 400 manuscript pages long, it made sense to start dividing them into four, 100-page chunks that roughly corresponded to this way of looking at a story. It's basically a tangible way for me to assess how my story is developing. It's also a lot easier to handle a book both physically and on the computer in 100-page chunks, since 400 pages can get pretty unwieldy.
Lately, younger screenwriters have adopted a system that divides stories into EIGHT segments, with something significant happening at the end of each segment. I've actually started using this system, too, when I lay out my plotting cards. But I still stick to my old four-part scheme when it comes to the actual writing.
An added benefit to approaching a book this way is that as I'm writing, I get a nice sense of accomplishment when I get to move on to the next "part". It's an artificial milepost, but when you're slogging through a process that can take up to a year, it helps.
And yes, that is a copy of When Maidens Mourn! It arrived on my doorstep yesterday, hot off the press.