Dissecting a Wicked-ass Novel

Hey-diddly-ho writer friends. How are things?

Work on my novel continues at a snail’s pace (although the ‘backwards to forwards’ technique is getting me through my 1000 word a day goal. I may or may not experiment with turning one dude into another dude… Actually, you know what, that will lead to zero finishing. So, I WILL NOT CHANGE ANY MORE DUDES INTO OTHER DUDES. For now.)

But enough old news! Time for new news:

I have decided to host my very own imaginary master class with Pulitzer prizewinner Michael Chabon. I say ‘imaginary’ since I have yet to receive a handwritten letter inviting me to live in his pool house in sunny California while he teaches me to make novels. I’m sure he’s just busy this week.

I’m writing my novel in 3rd person POV, and since I love The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to death, and it too is 3rd person with a sprawly, multiple years-multiple characters story, I am going to take it apart bit by bit, see what makes ‘er tick, and then… well… steal.

Picasso says it’s cool, man!
Besides, what am I gonna do, lift technique from shitty writing? Or keep using my limited technique to rewrite slightly different versions of scenes that weren’t working to being with? EXACTLY.
Also, this costs zero dollars. 🙂
Feel free to share some of your own favourite-story-tricks.

Oh, I should warn you about the SPOILERS. You know the best way to avoid those, right? Well, yeah, by not reading this, but reading the book would be tons more fun.

So, without further ado, today’s techniques are:
1.Character and world description via Hella Specific Detail and Actions
2.Character voice/flavour without using italicized thoughts, inner monologue, “he thought”, etc.
3.Not Dicking Around

1. The novel begins by showing how Sam describes himself and relates his backstory to others in later years… then it actually describes him and relates his backstory. As you can imagine, there are differences! This impression vs. actual description, plus Chabon’s ‘narrator voice’ conveys the smartassery, quick thinking, and sense of confusion-shame-furtive-self hate that Sam will go on to demonstrate for us throughout the next few hundred pages:
“He thought of himself as ugly, but this was because he had never seen his face in repose. He had delivered the Eagle for most of 1931 in order to afford a set of dumbbells, which he had hefted every morning for the next eight years until his arms, chest, and shoulders were ropy and strong; polio had left him with the legs of a delicate boy.”
Body image/ level of self awareness, details establishing setting of story, stubborn streak/enterpreneurship/work ethic, major formative background detail: check.
Word count: 67.

2. Still in 3rd person SammyCam pov, Chabon brings on our second main character and jumps right into the plot.
Sammy’s cousin, Josef, has just arrived in NYC after escaping WWII Czechoslovakia. I love this scene for eight billion reasons- dialogue, sense of relationships and history between different characters, little sensory details and specific verbs that put me right in the room- but what struck me today was this:

“…an odor of…something sweet and somehow nostalgic that Sammy presently identified as the smell, on his cousin’s breath, of prunes from the leftover ingot of his mother’s “special” meatloaf…which he had seen her wrap like a parcel in a sheet of wax paper and set on a plate in the Frigidaire. So she had known that her nephew would be arriving tonight, had even been expecting him for supper, and had said nothing about it to Sammy”

We get a sense of Sam’s surprise/ ‘heeeey, wait a minute!’ without any ‘he said, he thought, he wondered’ (‘he ejaculated’, haha.) Also, now that I think about it, it shows Mama’s little wax paper fetish. She’s always doing things with that wax paper! And Frigidaire! The Naming of Things! Aww, sweet details.

Anyway, ‘so she had known’ is going in the toolbox. I’m that neighbor who borrows your coping saw and never gives it back. 

3. No dicking around: SIXTY SEVEN WORD character sketch! Tone and setting established, main characters introduced and plot underway by THIRD PARAGRAPH. Holy shit, Michael Chabon.

Sorry about all the giant shouty capital letters, but it gets to me. Hoooo boy. Happy weekend everyone!

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3 responses to “Dissecting a Wicked-ass Novel

  1. How’s that self-taught course in Chabon coming along? 😉

    • Why, about as well as it looks…I can’t even SEE the flipping bandwagon anymore. oops.
      But in my defense (I said defensively) I did get a mostly full time job! And now that I actually have something like a schedule and can plan something like a life, I’m ready to start fresh on the writerliness.
      PS Did you know I’m super motivated by guilt?
      Reading the email that told me to read your comment got me going again, haha.
      Do that if I do this again, cool?
      🙂

  2. Haha! Will do. I’m super motivated by guilt too (surprise? haha), so I understand how that goes. That’s excellent news about the job, though! Color me jealous 🙂 Congratulations!

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