•What's the who? •Subspecies of Homo Fictus. •Creating wonderfully rounded characters, or, how to play God. •Making characters sizzle. •Building character from the ground up: the fictional biography. •Interviewing a character, or, getting to know him the easy way. •At the character's core: the ruling passion, and how to find it. »The steadfast protagonist, heartbeat of the dramatic novel. • Stereotyped characters and how to avoid them. •Character maximum capacity and the "would he really" test.
2. THE THREE GREATEST RULES OF DRAMATIC WRITING: CONFLICT! CONFLICT! CONFLICT! 27
•The how and why of conflict: bringing a character to life. •Equalizing the forces of opposition. »The bonding principle, or, keeping your characters in the crucible. •Inner conflict and the necessity thereof. •Patterns of dramatic conflict: static, jumping, and slowly rising. •Genres, the pigeonholes of literature.
3. THE TYRANNY OF THE PREMISE, OR, WRITING A STORY WITHOUT A PREMISE
•What's a premise? 'Organic unity and how it's achieved. •Premise defined. •Premises that work, and those that don't. •Finding your premise. »The three C's of premise. •Premise and selectivity. »The unconscious writer.
4. THE ABC'S OF STORYTELLING 68
•What's a story? »The dramatic story. »Beginning the story before the beginning. »The alternatives. »Incident and character: how each grows out of the other. »The uses of the stepsheet.
5. RISING TO THE CLIMAX, OR, THE PROOF
»Climax, resolution, and you. »Climax, premise, resolution, and how not to get it all confused. »The pattern of resolving conflict. »Proving the premise of the character. »What makes a great climax?—The secret of satisfying a reader.
6. VIEWPOINT, POINT OF VIEW, FLASHBACKING, AND SOME NIFTY GADGETS IN THE NOVELIST'S
»Viewpoint defined. »Objective viewpoint. Modified objective viewpoint. » First-person subjective viewpoint. »Omniscient viewpoint. »Limited omniscient viewpoint. »Choosing a viewpoint. »Narrative voice and genre. »The magic of identification, the greatest trick of all. »The fine art of flashbacking. » Foreshadowing. » Symbols—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Contents i x
7. THE FINE ART OF GREAT DIALOGUE
AND SENSUOUS, DRAMATIC PROSE 122
• Dialogue: direct and indirect, inspired and uninspired.
• Dramatic modes. »The shape of the dramatic scene.
• Developing a dramatic scene from the familiar and flat to the fresh and wonderful. "How to make a good exchange of dialogue out of a not-so-good one. »The commandments of dynamic prose. •Prose values beyond the senses.
8. REWRITING: THE FINAL AGONIES 150
•The why and the what of rewriting. •Writers' groups and how to use them. Getting along without a good group.
• Self-analyzing your story, step by step.
•On becoming a novelist. "What counts most—and it ain't talent. •The mathematics of novel writing, or, to get there, keep plugging even if you've got a hangover. ^What to do when your muse takes a holiday. "What to do when the job is done.
THANKS to my wife, Elizabeth, who put up with so much and helped so much with the manuscript; to Lester Gorn, who taught me most of it; to John Berger, who kept asking me the important questions; to my editor at St. Martin's, Brian DeFiore, for being patient and astute; to my agent, Susan Zeckendorf, for her faith; and to the late Kent Gould, who pushed hard to get me started writing How to Write a Damn Good Novel. He was a damn good friend.
A "DAMN GOOD NOVEL" is intense, and to be intense, a novel must be dramatic. A dramatic novel embodies the following characteristics: it focuses on a central character, the protagonist, who is faced with a dilemma; the dilemma develops into a crisis; the crisis builds through a series of complications to a climax; in the climax the crisis is resolved. Novels such as Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary are all written in the dramatic form and are all damn good novels.
Virginia Woolfs Mrs. Dalloway is a classic novel, a finely crafted work of art, well worth reading. It is not, however, in the form of the dramatic novel. Neither is James Joyce's Ulysses, a hallmark of twentieth-century English literature. If you wish to write like James Joyce or Virginia Woolf and create experimental, symbolic, philosophical, or psychological novels that eschew the dramatic form, this book is not for you. Nor is it for you if you're looking for an academic critique of the traditional dramatic novel. This is a how-to book on the art of the dramatic novel and does not claim to be anything else.
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