I ditched my original plan for today’s blog post yesterday afternoon after reading the first seven chapters of Chris Andrews’ new writing “how-to” book, Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance. The book was released on Friday. Since I’d preordered it for my tablet, it downloaded at 12:01 a.m.
Chris Andrews is an Australian fantasy author. He has much more experience than I have in writing fiction. He has helped me a lot on my journey as a writer.
This book is aimed at writers, but I can imagine a fan of fiction also reading it and getting a better understanding of what goes into writing a novel. Clue: There’s more to it than typing.
In Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, Mr. Andrews writes about how important it is for a novelist to reach his or her readers by getting them emotionally invested. You can write a book with perfect punctuation about a perfect person with a perfect life but, if you don’t write it in a way that prompts your reader to care what happens to this character, your novel will fail. Your character must face challenges and problems. Otherwise, no one will care.
The following are two quotes from Mr. Andrews’ book:
“Mastering the mechanics of writing doesn’t automatically provide the entertainment factor.”
“You’re the architect, so unless you’re building your story purely for yourself, you need to consider your audience.”
Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance reminds writers that readers come to a novel with certain expectations regarding structure. If a writer is going to deviate from the expected structure of a novel, he or she better be an outstanding writer to pull it off. Different genres adhere to set patterns or sequences of plot. Readers are uncomfortable with any deviation and book sales and reviews will reflect that.
As Mr. Andrews states early in the book, “This book will help you balance your story so the beginning, middle and end work to your advantage [and] create the emotional high and low points your audience expects.”
He addresses how authors approach the writing of a novel in different ways. Some writers are outliners, while others are “pantsters.” (Outliners map out their story before they write it. Pantsters write by the seat of their pants.)
Mr. Andrews writes, “One process favours emotion while the other is all about logic. You need to be a master of both and that means doing the things you don’t want to do.”
I’m an outliner. That doesn’t mean I adhere to the rigid way I was taught in elementary school to outline. When I’m plotting a story or novel, I outline with sentences and paragraphs, scene-by-scene. That’s what works for me, so my bigger challenge is mastering emotion.
Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance is the first writing “how-to)” book I’ve read that focuses on this important aspect of creative writing. I wish Mr. Andrews had written it a few years ago! As I continue to edit and polish the manuscript for what I hope will be my first novel, The Doubloon OR The Spanish Coin, I will keep the lessons learned from this book in mind as I work to put more emotion in my writing. If my readers don’t care about my characters, my book won’t be successful on any level.
Mr. Andrews states, “It depends on your own strengths and weaknesses, but whichever path you take the end game encompass character, conflict and a coherent and emotionally engaging structure that makes your audience feel what you want them to feel.”
Also, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”
Mr. Andrews’ book has helped me have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the necessity of a marriage between character and plot in a work of fiction.
In his book, Mr. Andrews gives questions that fiction writers should ask about their manuscripts in order to get insight into the stories they’re writing.
Here’s one last quote from Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance: “Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers that will help you emotionally engage your audience.”
Can you believe all that came just from reading the first two chapters of the book?
The book goes on to say a writer needs to put himself or herself in the place of a character and in the place of the reader. How will your story come across? What will make your reader care about your character(s)? Will your reader be satisfied with how the core problem your character faces is resolved? What’s at stake for your character?
In addition to giving us questions to ask about our manuscripts, he provides entertaining exercises for writers to do in order to consider how character and structure are presented in a variety of well-known novels. He challenges the writer to back off from their story’s details and to look at the whole story as the Norse God Loki could.
If you look at your story or manuscript as a whole and see a perfect world, you’re looking at a world that will bore your reader. That’s the last thing you want! Mr. Andrews then offers a list of things you need to answer or address regarding your book in order to – as we would say in a baseball analogy in the United States – “cover all the bases.”
That brings us to the end of the sixth of 32 chapters in Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance. I can’t wait to see how much I learn from the remaining 26 chapters! But don’t expect me to summarize the rest of the book for you. You need to buy it for yourself. It’s available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon.com.
If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend that you purchase it and slowly and thoughtfully work your way through it. That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks. I trust my novel in progress will benefit greatly from the pointers in this book.
Since my last blog post
I enjoyed some wonderful time with three precious family members who live 300 miles away, so I don’t get to see them often.
Before and after their visit, I did a lot of reading.
Until my next blog post
If you’re interested in learning more about Chris Andrews and his novels, visit his website at https://www.chrisandrews.me/.
I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Fifth Column, a historical thrilled by Andrew Gross and have started listening to The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.
Next Monday’s blog post will be about the other books I read in September.
Let’s continue the conversation
If you’re a writer, are you an outliner or a pantster? Do you find it easier to get the mechanics of a story right or do you prefer writing the emotion?
If you’re a fiction reader, does it upset you when an author deviates too much from the expected? For instance, if you like to read romance, does it upset you if a romance novel doesn’t have a happy ending? That’s what is meant by deviating from reader expectations.