Wednesday, June 15, 2005

spy NOVEL vs. SPY novel

Okay, some of you know what I'm talking about. There are novels which involve spies and intrigue, and then there are spy plots that hucksters somehow turn into novels that spend months on the best seller lists, confounding even the most cynical writer among us.
I just finished reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which, in my book, is a spy NOVEL. That is, the writing and character development are not sacrificed to the plot. It has a great plot, and it also has a lot of moody rumination and some scenes where not a lot happens. My favorite thing is that most of the "action" takes place in the past, so it only happens in a monologue, where one spy is relating the story to another. It's a brilliant technique.
Middlebrow suggested T,T,S,S (that sounds kind of dirty!) because in my so-called-novel the protagonist is looking into something that happened in the past and my big "structural" difficulty is how to move smoothly between the narrative present and the past.Structure seems to be my big problem, or at least my excuse for writer's block. I was talking to a friend back east (he recorded some of my stuff for a "radio literary journal" he's doing for a college radio station; more on that later) and he asked me to talk about structure because of the two prose pieces I had written using poetic forms (the crown of sonnets essay and the sestina story). And I said that using poetic forms as the structure freed up my mind to just invent. Which made me think that maybe what I need to do is find some kind of arbitrary (or not so arbitrary) form for the novel and just use it. But it can't be crazy, like terza rima, and it has to be large enough to encapsulate an entire novel. Help! What can my received novel form be? I need one! I think it would help me to at least get my (shitty) first draft done.


susansinclair said...

I think you need to remake the bodice ripper. Yeah. (And I love le Carre--he just rocks. And I'm a fan of mind-candy mystery novels, like Janet Evanovich, so that's saying something.)

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

I know this isn't exactly the kind of structure you're talking about, but I'm a fan of weird structures. Even if you abandon them on later drafts, they can help a lot in getting you going.

Nik said...

I Love Mary Anne's Star Trek structure. I've been thinking about Cloud Atlas as structure too--especially the chiasmatic way the sections are cut in half and then finished in backwards order. I love it and I do think it's sort of necessary to have some sort of form to hang the plot across.
Hmm. I want to think more about possible structures for novels and any sort of longer pieces.

Sleepy E said...

Is Cloud Atlas any good? I read that guy's previous one (I can't even remember the name of it) and it struck me as gimmicky and hollow.

Dr. Write said...

It is! good! It is, also, sort of gimmicky. But the actual stories (what's the narratology term?) the narrative, what happens, is so good, that it works. And it is a bit forced, but the links between the stories pay off in the end. I think I have to invent my own form, in some way, much as Mitchell did. That's a good idea!!