Announcement

Collapse

Welcome to Moorcock's Miscellany

Dear reader,

Many people have given their valuable time to create a website for the pleasure of posing questions to Michael Moorcock, meeting people from around the world, and mining the site for information. Please follow one of the links above to learn more about the site.

Thank you,
Reinart der Fuchs
See more
See less

That Structure Thing

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • That Structure Thing

    When the old multiverse site went down, Berry put up a link to another forum where you were talking about writing -- in particular, about structure. I found that discussion very interesting. Would you care to expand on any of those ideas here, like story boarding, or breaking novels down into parts and the various shapes, and so on? I'd be particularly interested in whether you have any particular likes or dislikes regarding language.

    And, of course, I'd welcome everyone else's opinion on the things they either hate or like about quality of language and writing style. As for myself, I admire the minimalist approach, where you get the greatest amount of meaning and imagery packed into the smallest space. And I hate it when writers overuse colourless adjectives and adverbs.

  • #2
    I don't believe there's any way you can 'teach' someone to write. How they write depends on what they want to write and who they are. But in Death is No Obstacle, the book I did about writing technique, I tried to show how I'D solved my particular technical problems. So I wouldn't want anyone to take what I say as the only way to do something. It's how I do it. I write very rapidly, as most people know, but that's after I've done quite a lot of thinking and planning. I choose the best method for the idea, for instance, which can be a fantasy, a 'straight' realistic narrative or a more 'experimental' approach. Increasingly, these days, my fantasy fiction is 'about' fantasy or trying to offset elements in a genre which I think are too simplistic. That's one of the reasons I am writing the current Elric sequence, looking at what some people think of as the 'fascistic' elements in a lot of fantasy fiction, for instance. Glorianna was about simple ideas of romance and chivalry, directly addressing Spenser's notions in The Fairy Queene. The Warlord of the Air was about the unjust roots of imperial idealism. There is always, if you like, a 'moral' reason for writing what I write. While I don't expect every reader to get those messages, the messages are there for those who want them. I was very pleased, for instance, when Derek Woolcott, the Nobel Prize winner, came up to me and told me how much he'd enjoyed Warlord of the Air. There was no doubt that he understood it as a parable about racism and imperialism, but he'd also enjoyed the fun of it, the big airships and putting well known figures into different roles.
    However, I am also very pleased when a fifteen year old boy tells me how the story blew his mind. The object of the so-called New Wave was to find forms which told as many stories as possible. That is the whole thrust of my literary career and why I saw science fiction and fantasy as offering the possibilities I sought. I think there are, these days, quite a lot of writers who are doing the same thing and it gives me a lot of pleasure to bring them to peoples' attention whenever I can, just as I tried to do with the writers I published in New Worlds.
    I have different methods of planning different books but almost all of them have some kind of storyboard in which I sketch the scenes as one might lay out a graphic novel. I learned how to do this, of course, by writing all those comics I wrote as a young man. It's why I still enjoy the occasional foray into comics, especially since they have become so much more sophisticated, thanks to the likes of Alan Moore, Bryan Talbot and Neil Gaiman.
    So -- the storyboard helps you condense a scene and makes it carry information -- body language of characters, which reveal a particular attitude perhaps -- dialogue of characters, which might be contradicting what their body language is telling us -- narrative, which might be telling a third story (or an aspect of it). The narrative dynamic can even be expressed by the position of the characters in the frame, but that is ultimately the job of the language. For a very 'hot' subject such as Behold the Man I used very plain language. For a subject like Glorianna, I used much more elaborate language, to reflect the attitudes and manners I was examining. Jerry Cornelius tends to use very cool language, stripped down, laconic and frequently has characters referring to the stories and situations in which they have been placed by the author. I use press cuttings in Cornelius in order to save space which would otherwise be devoted to explication in the narrative. These are also sometimes at odds with what's being said in the story. Again this is a way of showing the ongoing debate, offering as many points of view as possible, which is necessary in stories so politically focussed as the Cornelius stories. The first book I bought with my own money, as I've often said, was The Pilgrim's Progress. Reading that, I understood that the job of the writer was to offer more than one story to the reader -- at least two. One is the description of events, which can be engagingly
    thrilling, imaginative, colourful, and the other is the moral story, which is usually exemplary and reflects the author's own views. In what is sometimes called a postmodern world, the author is not always sure of his own views, so the moral debate is left as open as possible. It is in that sense a dialogue with the reader. Again language is imporrtant.
    I use the standard distanced God-like narrator in Mother London, but
    a much more in your face style in Cornelius. Elric is epic fantasy and requires yet another kind of language which is given extra meaning by introducing a note of irony on which the sympathetic reader picks up.
    Elric's sardonic comments can be one thing, my ironic tone another.
    How's that for a start ?

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

    Comment


    • #3
      Sorry. I meant to add that I break a story down into sections, always. I tend to use three and units of three -- duodecimal is more flexible than
      decimal! In a conventional book I will usually break it down into
      Introduction, Development, Resolution All the elements and most of the characters should appear in the introduction, along with the main story threads. These should be developed through the second third and then brought to resolution inthe concluding third. Even Mother London was developed in this way, though I used twelves there. I even make a self-demand that the numbers of words of each section and chapter should roughly break into units or parts of twelve -- that is I might decide that every chapter must be six thousand words and every section be seventy two thousand words. I learned some of this from Dickens, who developed his disciplines writing for partworks, each one of which was 32 pages long (apart from special doubles of 64). If you turn the pages of a Dickens first edition (which is usually the bound parts) you will find that there is so much on each page that you can't skip through it to get the general gist of the plot. This makes me try to concentrate as much as possible and is why most of my fantasy books are so short compared with most. So together with a story board I will also have a chart breaking the book down into numbers of sections, numbers of chapters, number of words in each chapter (not always the same number -- some could be 3,000, some 6,000 and some 9,000 or, indeed, 4,500). This is to make me concentrate what I have to say and also demands that I do some tight plotting! Of course, these are only rough numbers -- I might have one chapter go to 7,000 and another 5,000, but by and large the number of words in each section will be roughly the same. This form is only a guide, however. It should never determine the content of each chapter. Hope that makes sense.

      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

      Comment


      • #4
        I guess your compact writing approach is quite a contrast to Stephen Donaldson's approach where each book was enormous. I read all the Thomas Covenant books at one time and did enjoy the climax when he eventually used The White Gold to rid the world of Lord Foul once and for all. They were so very long though so I dont think I will be reading them again.

        Since I enjoy the Corum stories so much and since I have so little time in this modern world (Today I just got my tax return form - its not a form, its a book!!!) I thought about summarising and reducing each page to just a single sentence, like the introductions, but that doesnt seem to work there's just too much going on.

        Comment


        • #5
          I'm a great believer in the structure being the core of the tale,
          reflecting even the moral thrust of a book. Very few writers, I've discovered, write in that way. Good news is that Donaldson's
          books have been optioned as movies fairly recently. It could be we'll be seeing a whole slew of great fantasy movies in the future, if people approach them with the same care Jackson approached LOTR. Could become the dominant form in the movies, the way the Western or the Thriller used to be. A strange turn up, eh ?

          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
          The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
          Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
          The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
          Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

          Comment


          • #6
            Donaldson's Covenant books are difficult to get through, as his themes are very grim and his usage of the language ambitious. That being said, I find them to be enjoyable, far moreso than the average Tolkien clone fantasy. There are many elements which were obviously borrowed from LOTR, but Donaldson was clearly trying to something different with them. I like the fact that he didn't use the standard orcs, trolls, blah blah either. There are some elves in the latter stories, but they are very different elves than we are accustomed to reading about. I agree the books will make fine films if done properly, and this is certainly an exciting time for fans of fantasy (provided the adaptations are done with care).

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
              Very few writers, I've discovered, write in that way.
              You can say that again. I found it intriguing when I first heard you mention it a couple of years back. So I had a go at writing that way myself, and it worked for me. But to this day, when I mention it to other aspiring writers they respond with incredulity.

              "Doesn't it restrict your writing?" they ask.

              Yes that's what it's supposed to do. You fit the story into the structure so it has a particular shape -- that way, it's well balanced and coherent, and has a certain pleasing symmetry to it.

              "But what happens if the story doesn't fit?"

              But it does fit, because that's how you're writing it.

              "What happens if you want to write a different sort of story?"

              Then you use a different sort of structure.

              "Well, I'm sure I wouldn't want to turn writing into a mathematical formula."

              Maybe so, but I don't want to turn it into an exercise in pop mysticism either... and so on, and on, and on forever. I wonder if it's because they really can't write this way, or just because the idea of it turns them off? But I, for one, find it interesting and useful, so thanks for sharing it. I'll try my best not to rip you off too much with it, though. (I always find it a little ironic when people admire someone for his originality and then turn around and copy him.) It's the seed of an idea I can adapt to my own purpose.

              Comment


              • #8
                (Puff of smoke. Participant appears, clutching Runestaff which has magically transported him from another thread. Peers at Runestaff curiously. Shakes it, holds it up to his ear, then shrugs and parks it in nearby umbrella stand borrowed from old John Sladek story.)

                What I enjoyed most about 'Death is No Obstacle' was its expositionary nature, I think. Given the flannel that so many authors come out with when asked to describe their working methods, it was rather refreshing to read about how one author deals with structural issues in specific, verifiable detail. There were earlier intimations of this in that interview which appeared in 'The Imagination on Trial' [cough] years ago, I thought. I guess I just had to wait twenty years to read the rest of it in DINO!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Another thing I've noticed is that the structure of a story is often emphasised by repeating certain elements. So we have three little pigs, and three billy goat's gruff, and so on. I notice, too, you did that with the first three Corum books -- The Knight of Swords, The Queen of Swords, and The King of Swords -- but also in a more subtle way with something like Blood, where you alternate the Jack Karaquazian things with the Corsairs of the Second Ether in a regular pattern.

                  Because I'm a musician that immediately suggests to me a parallel with rhythm. I notice that's not an original observation either, because I've seen you refer to the Sonata form. But if we equate story structure with rhythm, we can see that it's possible to elaborate the rhythm of a story in exactly the same sorts of ways we can elaborate the rhythm of a song. For example, if we introduce a second repeating element into the story, we can play that off against the basic rhythm, laying it forward, or sitting behind the beat, doing triplet fills, or all kinds of syncopations. We could, for example, write a story with a Bo Diddley beat: Da di di Da di di Da di di di Dum Dum. We could even score the structure for a piece of writing in musical notation, if we were so inclined.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I have always enjoyed The Police and most of Sting's earlier solo stuff. The last album he produced that I totally enjoyed was Ten Summoner's Tales. He's always talking about three chords. I've heard interviews on radio where he talks about working in 3s. The best I could come up with in a search was this:

                    STING: It's the hardest thing of all to do is to write a simple song. Um, I, I don't think that means you can stop studying. I don't think you should really...you can't get to the end of music. That's the great thing about it. Um, my teachers have been people like Gil Evans. You know? Who, who at the age of seventy-six, was still learning. Was still listening. Still had an open mind. It, you just don't get to the end of it. It's not just about three chords and a relative minor. If you think that then your missing an awful lot. At the same time, you can create beautiful, simple work with just those chords (laughs). So, you know, I-I-I-I, I don't want to rely on just those four chords, but, uh, sometimes that's all you need.
                    Source: Rogier's The Police Page
                    URL: http://www.cybercomm.nl/~gugten/tst-disc.htm

                    Could one learn a lot about music from good writing? Does one learn something about setting a pace in storytelling by listening to good music?

                    Originally posted by Kinsley Castle
                    Because I'm a musician that immediately suggests to me a parallel with rhythm. I notice that's not an original observation either, because I've seen you refer to the Sonata form. But if we equate story structure with rhythm, we can see that it's possible to elaborate the rhythm of a story in exactly the same sorts of ways we can elaborate the rhythm of a song. For example, if we introduce a second repeating element into the story, we can play that off against the basic rhythm, laying it forward, or sitting behind the beat, doing triplet fills, or all kinds of syncopations. We could, for example, write a story with a Bo Diddley beat: Da di di Da di di Da di di di Dum Dum. We could even score the structure for a piece of writing in musical notation, if we were so inclined.
                    The cat spread its wings and flew high into the air, hovering to keep pace with them as they moved cautiously toward the city. Then, as they climbed over the rubble of what had once been a gateway and began to make their way through piles of weed-grown masonry, the cat flew to the squat building with the yellow dome upon its roof. It flew twice around the dome and then came back to settle on Jhary's shoulder. - The King of the Swords

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Could one learn a lot about music from good writing? Does one learn something about setting a pace in storytelling by listening to good music?
                      I certainly think it's possible, to the extent that musicians and writers are trying to create the same effect in their audience. They're both trying to catch a reader's or listener's attention and hold it, and sweep them up in the mood of the piece. Some of Mike's writing with non-linear narratives strikes me as musical.

                      Because I grew up in Sydney in the 80s (which was a sort of golden age for Australian underground music) my musical tastes differ somewhat from yours or Mike's. For example, I've learned quite a lot from Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation album. For me, that embodies the perfect lesson in pacing. It also does interesting things with contrast -- quiet vs loud, harmony vs dissonance. It's not everyone's idea of good music (and the vocals aren't very strong), but I'd be very pleased with myself if I could write a novel that reads like Daydream Nation sounds, even if it had the same sort of rough edges.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Liked Sonic Youth a lot.
                        I use musical structuring all the time for my work, though, of course, most of this is classical music. Sonata form being the most common.
                        I think in musical forms, in fact. This, of course, is so close to math that it easily translates into a formula you can write down for yourself.
                        Mind you, few would come up with my 'fish blowing a trumpet' form as described in Death is No Obstacle ? Sometimes I wonder if I'm barmy.
                        I put this to a composer friend. Form, he told me, was what we make from the Chaos of the multiverse. Maybe we're all doing our best to shape a bit of Law, both in our individual and our common aims. Or
                        am I sounding barmy again...

                        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                        The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                        Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                        The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                        Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          To me, "American English" term for 'barmy' could be 'loony' or "on crack." For example, "Do I sound like I'm on crack?"
                          I am a musician/ writer also, and I think you guys sound a bit loony and on crack. I say it facetiously and affectionately of course! :)

                          From what I've seen though, the best, most genius creative people often sound quite barmy! :D

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jerico
                            From what I've seen though, the best, most genius creative people often sound quite barmy! :D
                            I think creative people often sound loony/barmy to others, because most people don't have much cause to learn the particular kinds of logic that underpin creative work. Unless, for example, you've tried to write a novel that's fallen to bits a hundred pages in (like I unfortunately did), you won't appreciate the no-nonsense simplicity of Mike's approach. And it's quite a departure too, because the conventional wisdom says you should sit down in front of your computer (or better still, in front of an antique roll-top desk with a quill pen and a bottle of ink), adopt a suitably artistic pose, and then make it up as you go along. To plan and to structure a story ahead of time is allegedly supposed to "impinge on your creativity with too much logical thinking." I don't know how many times I've heard that.

                            The alternative approach, which accounts for the other side of the conventional argument about writing, is to produce a plot outline. A plot outline is where you make a short list of all the events in the story, and you check the events off the list as you write them. I found it rather difficult to write like this too. You almost have to be prescient to write good plot outlines, because you have to guess, ahead of time, what's going to be the most sensible and "in-character" way for the people in your story to behave. In practice, what usually happens is that you sit down to write a scene, and all of a sudden you can think of half a dozen ways that the scene could be better than how you've conceived it in the outline. So you scrap the outline and write up a new and improved version. Once you've done that a dozen times for one story, you're no better off than if you had written with no outline.

                            That's where I was up to when I came along to Mike Moorcock's Q&A and read his description of how he wrote some of his early fantasies. There's no plot outline. There's none of this business about striking an artistic pose, pen in hand, to do battle with the Blank Page Horror. There was just this simple, no nonsense prescription. You've got 60 thousand words. You can break that into three blocks of 20 thousand words each, and that gives you a beginning, a middle and an end. You can take each of those 20 thousand word blocks and break it further down to chapters of 4 or 5 thousand words.

                            That was a bit of a revelation for me. It's one of those things that seem so simple and obvious that you say, "Well, of course. Why didn't I think of that?" But in this particular context, it's not obvious at all, because very little of the available literature states it in these terms. It's not a free for all, because you're working to a structure. But structure isn't the same as a plot outline, because it doesn't dictate the plot. It's a hell of a lot less barmy than some of the things other people say about the creative endeavour -- trust me on that.

                            I'm also interested in Edward de Bono's ideas about creativity, which have some of that same no-nonsense, practical quality to them.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
                              Sometimes I wonder if I'm barmy.
                              I put this to a composer friend. Form, he told me, was what we make from the Chaos of the multiverse. Maybe we're all doing our best to shape a bit of Law, both in our individual and our common aims. Or
                              am I sounding barmy again...
                              I know for a fact that people often get funny ideas about me. I was sitting in my local pub once, and this guy I vaguely know comes up and offers me a cigarette. And I said, "No thanks, I don't smoke." Then he said, "Really? I thought you must have been into all that stuff, drugs and everything." But I never was. Alcohol, nicotine, and all those other interesting chemical substances never did anything much for me.

                              I can't imagine why he would have thought so.

                              I see it slightly differently from your composer friend. According to my philosophical musings, there are any number of ways you can bring order to chaos -- an infinity of potential organising principles, or of forms, if you like. Sometimes they contradict each other, but they are all more or less valid. It's just that some are more "useful" for some things than others. But even if there's no such thing as a perfect form, we usually choose some form or other (if only temporarily), because the only other course is to admit we know nothing and understand nothing.

                              Barmy enough for you? :)

                              Comment

                              Working...
                              X