Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ambition

So I've been thinking a lot about structure lately and how I'm a little tired of the fact that every book I write starts at the beginning and goes to the end, over and over and over again. Beginning, middle end. Beginning, middle, end. Beginningmiddleend.

I've read two books recently whose structures blew me away. Sister by Rosamund Lupton (I think I've mentioned it before) and Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian. They both mess around with the timeline. Starting at one point, hopping into the past, coming back to the present until both timelines meet up and then charging into the present/future. They were both awesome.

I had also been watching the first few seasons of Damages with my niece. The writers for that show also used a structure where you're in the present and then hopping into the past and then back to the present until the timelines merge near the end and pull you along to the conclusion.

We just started season 3, though, and they're even a little more ambitious with the timeline. There's the past then a mid point and then the present and frankly, I'm confused. They got too ambitious with their fancy storytelling technique and it's all gotten muddy.

I really want to try to do something more in my next book (not the one I'm writing now, I'm too committed to how that one works, but the one after that assuming there is one after that), but the idea of biting off more than I can chew is scary.

Have you seen that before where the writer or writers go too far in a book or a movie or a television show? Where they get too ambitious and instead of being intriguing, it's muddy and confusing?

12 comments:

Stephanie Doyle said...

Uh hello... Lost anyone?

That first season was brilliant - but I think they just got a little too cute for their own good. By the end I just stopped caring.

Unfortunately - I think you have to comitt fully to biting off more than you can chew - and sometimes that might go overboard - or it's going to be brilliant.

You're probably just going to have to write it to figure it out.

I'm also planning on a 2 timeline book - scares the crap out of me - but writing wouldn't be as much fun if it didn't every once and a while.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I agree to biting off more than you can chew - I think with all the fun tricks of POV and timeline they have to be relevant to the story. It can't be a trick for trick's sake. I keep thinking of The time traveller's wife and how without the tricks of the timeline it was just a simple a story. IT needed those tricks.

Molly O'Keefe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen McGowan said...

For me it wasn't Lost, it was Heroes. I got to a point when I had no freaking idea what was going on and what parallel version of the future we were in.

Maureen McGowan said...

But I too love books with different structures. One of my WF had two timelines that both moved fwd and then collided at the climax of the book where you (and the heroine) basically found out the truth about what happened before the story started.

I loved writing that book.

Sinead M said...

Anytime structure can enhance a story, then perfect, but a lot of people get caught up in structure and lose characterization.

See Heroes....

Eileen, I'm with Stephanie on this, sometimes you have to write it to figure it out...

Eileen said...

I think you're right. I think I'll have to at least try it and see if I'm up to the task. I also think two timelines are plenty. Although there was a sneaky third one in Sister, but it was sneaky and subtle and you didn't totally get it until the end.

Also, yes on Lost and Heroes. Loved loved loved those first seasons and then they fell apart for me. Of course, I felt that way about Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy and, right now, about Chuck.

Maureen McGowan said...

Great point about Time Travellers Wife, Molly. That book in chronological order would not have had the same (if any) impact.

The Night Circus is another recent one I've read that has a non-chronological structure. Other than that the short 2nd person descriptions of each tent are scattered through the book... I'm not actually certain what the structure was. I'd have to study it a bit to see if there was a "plan". It went back and forth in time a lot and nearing the climax that was super effective, but earlier in the book... I'd have to think about it some more. I was constantly flipping back to the start of a chapter, then back to a few more, to figure out when the section was taking place and remind myself what was going on at that time. But loved the book. Loved.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Eileen - you are a professional writer. Of course you are up to the task.

I say this to boost your confidence as well as my own - becasue I too am a little bit scardy cat when it comes to doing big ideas.

But why? We are the boss of the book! We can do anything!

I believe it!!!! (Mostly sort of)

Maureen McGowan said...

Both of you can totally do it!! I did it on only my third manuscript. The second I actually finished. But I was too green back then to have a plan. The structure kind of happened by accident. If I'd set out to do it, I probably would have been terrified.

I think at the time I'd recently read Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (which I loved) and although I didn't plan to alternate timelines I think her book's structure was in my brain.

Eileen said...

I feel like a very inept boss, Steph. Like maybe Dilbert's boss.

ohio dentist said...

It's the start on reaching one goal. Every small steps counts.

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