Friday, August 29, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: The Best Book I('m) Read(ing) in August

It's that time of the month again! Time for the Cephalopod Coffeehouse and my discussion about the best book I read in August.

Unfortunately, this was a bit of a dry month for me reading-wise. Between the book release and all that went along with that, my fantastic trip to California, and the untimely return of my job responsibilities (school is back in session), I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked.

I was going to talk about the book I'm currently reading. It's a scary one called The Silence by Sarah Rayne.



I really the concept of the book, which is a mixture of old letters offering clues as to what happened in this haunted house intermingled with the modern narration of those experiencing the house's terror. This book started out really strong, but it really lagged in the middle, and at the end it took off again. So I'm a bit "on the fence" about it.

Therefore, I've decided to talk about a craft book by James Scott Bell called Write Your Novel from the Middle.


This is a short, to-the-point book, and as a writer you can pick it up, read a little, and immediately come away from the page with usable information.

At first I was a little skeptical about this technique. As a writer, I usually begin with the first chapter and just keep forcing my way through the weeds and the swamps of writer's block and difficult stop/starts until I reach the end. James Scott Bell completely shakes up that technique suggesting that you start directly in the center of the book with the scene that forces the main character to examine their heart, motives, or situation. He provides examples of classic books like Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you turn to the exact center of the novels, you find the character in some kind of self examination or situation assessment. For example, in Gone with the Wind, the exact middle is Scarlett's great speech "I'll never go hungry again." She realizes that this war is nothing like she thought it would be, nothing has turned out the way she'd hoped, but she's the sort of person who will rise above, conquer, and survive.

I tried this little experiment myself. I turned to the middle of some classics I know and love--Rebecca, for instance. In the middle of this classic novel, the narrator realizes that Mrs. Danvers has completely sabotaged her costume for the ball, suggesting she wear a custom-made dress from the paintings in the hall. When Maxim de Winter's young wife does this, her husband and the other guests are shocked. She looks exactly like Rebecca. Instead of wowing the guests, the opposite effect occurs, and Mrs. Danvers is pleased as punch. The narrator realizes Danvers hates her and wants her to disappear as she can never replace Rebecca. (Here's the scene in the movie in case you want to view it).





I must confess that I'm not completely finished with the book yet, but I'm trying out the technique, and I have to admit that it's working really well for my current work-in-progress.

So it's not a fiction recommendation this month, but the writers in our midst may find this book useful and surprisingly original as a book of craft.



19 comments:

  1. I love Rebecca, the book and the movie. The idea of not beginning at the beginning is an interesting technique. I'm always suspicious of books that tell one how to write, but you've made this one sound quite good.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Janie, I do NOT like to read books that tell me how to write, and I never reada them. But this one is quick and to-the-point. I've found it helpful and interesting.

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  2. Since I'm a pantser, I don't think I could write from the middle. I usually get to know my characters by writing the first sentence and going from there!

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    1. I pretty much do the same, Stephanie. I like to start at the beginning, too. I still "started" at the beginning on this WIP, but then I skipped to the middle for a change. We'll see how that goes.

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  3. I really, really like the middle idea, actually. Especially for someone like me, who tends to get very lost in my own head as I go from beginning to end. But I can't start with the end, as some suggest, because I never know what that is. I especially love the idea of picking up great works and getting inspiration from their middles. LOVED the middle of Rebecca, a novel I recently finished.

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    1. I re-read Rebecca last year and loved it all over again. It's just a great story. I'm like you--I can't start from the end. I never know what mine's going to be either.

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  4. Starting from the middle is an interesting idea. I'm often very much in love with the middle of my books, and I can't wait to get there when I'm writing. Maybe I should just give up and go straight for the meat of the story.

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    1. Jennifer, it really is an interesting concept, and as I picked up and looked at the middle of books I knew well, I realized that the middle portion really is that nice, juicy, meaty part.

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  5. That's interesting about writing from the middle of an idea. I think I would struggle with that if I was a writer. I honestly am a bit ashamed of the best book I read this month. I found a series of books that just captivated me. I'm on book 6 of 7. The first couple were interesting, but have taken a down turn, but I can't stop reading them. Have to see what happens. I won't even say what the name is since they aren't really edifying books.....

    betty

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    1. Betty--I'd LOVE to know what you're reading. Sometimes I read things like that too (as you know, I'm a sucker for scary stories), but they hold very little value other than entertainment.

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  6. The approach makes a lot of sense. It would be a challenge for me but probably a healthy one to break myself out of my linear thinking comfort zone.

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    1. I'm the same. Linear thinking really is my comfort zone. This does feel strange and ...incomplete. I'm looking forward to filling in the holes.

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    2. Best of luck with it. Perhaps that sense of incompleteness can serve as meaningful motivation, too.

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  7. You can read so many tips and hints on 'how to' but in the end if one or several things work for you then go for that. I might look out for the ghost story by Sarah Rayne that you mention.

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    1. Sally, you are 100% right. The same technique does not work for everyone. Period. You really have to do what works for you.

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  8. Hmmm, I'd never considered the idea of starting in the middle before. Matter of fact, when our kids were growing up, and they'd get so excited about something they were babbling semi-incoherently, I always told them to take a deep breath, slow down, and tell me what happened... from the beginning. That's kind of my approach to writing, too. I guess my mind is happiest when operating in a linear mode. Maybe it's time to shake it up a little, huh?

    Nice to meet you. Count me in as your newest groupie.

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    1. Aw, thanks Susan! :) I'm really a linear person too. I feel the same way when someone is talking quickly and jumping around. Stories told from the beginning are easiest to follow. My current work in progress will be linear in narrative, but I'm just concentrating on the middle right now. I'll go back and fill in the beginning and then the end. It feels a little strange to me right now, though!

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  9. Thanks for the recommendations! I always like a good craft book--and I'm writing my current WIP totally out of sequence--so this meshes nicely. I used to write linear, but I felt like, this time, if I was inspired with a scene, I'd write it. Then I wouldn't forget anything as to WROTE to get to it, if you catch my meaning.

    Anywho, cool recommendation.
    Thanks!
    Veronica

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  10. Great, Veronica! I hope it might be of use to you. I always enjoy your recommendations!

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