Friday, February 15, 2008

Blips and Story Analysis

On my latest round of royalty statements, sales of the first two books in the series doubled from what they'd been in the previous period, which is kind of odd for books that have been out for more than a year, and really odd for books that have been out for more than two years. Normally sales start big and then gradually decline. They don't usually spike years down the line. My agent and I are trying to figure out what, if anything, caused that blip so that we can maybe repeat it on purpose or get the publisher to do something to capitalize on it. My agent's meeting with my new editor next week, and I thought it might be nice so give her some data.

So, if you first bought one of the first two books of the series in the second half of last year (July through December), especially in the September-November time frame, what led to you discovering and buying the book? Did you hear about it somewhere, see something online, etc.? If you'd already heard about it previously but only bought the book at that time, what led you to finally make that purchase? It would also be interesting data if you were already into the series through the library or borrowing a book and bought a copy for yourself during that time, if you received it as a gift, or if you were already a fan and bought copies as gifts at that time. You can leave comments or e-mail me.

Now, for something less self-serving. A few weeks ago (pre-flu), I mentioned that I was reading a book on writing. That's where that list of things that really appeal to me in stories came from. Now that I've finished reading it, I'll talk about the book as a whole. It's The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, and I liked it enough that I'm seriously considering buying it in hardcover (I found it at the library). I haven't actually tried to apply the things from it in my work, but it was triggering enough "A ha!" moments and ideas as I was reading it that I decided to postpone getting back to work on revising my book in order to read the rest of it and then try to apply it. There were enough things I was already doing instinctively that I can't help but wonder if applying the things I wasn't already doing to the parts that aren't working would help.

One thing I really like is that he has some practical suggestions for very esoteric aspects of writing, like theme and symbolism. There's also a whole chapter on creating something that people want to return to -- the story that keeps people thinking or that people want to re-read/re-watch. He has a pretty complicated plot breakdown that appeals to my analytical little heart, with 22 elements (most writing books seem to have just six or seven). And they are elements that may be woven throughout the story rather than cut-and-dried steps. One thing that I like about that section of the book is that he illustrates the whole thing with two different movies, and his examples aren't perfect illustrations of his steps. Where they vary, he explains how that works in that particular story. When the examples are too letter-perfect, it's more difficult to see how the system could be flexible.

On the down side, it does seem like the emphasis is more on screenwriting than on novel writing, even though the basic storytelling elements are fairly universal. In one case, where he does a deep analysis of how the scenes break down and encompass his 22 elements, he uses Pride and Prejudice, but instead of the novel itself, he analyzes the screenplay from the 1940s movie, which seems to bear only passing similarity to the book (and as I recall, that's the movie where the characters wore Victorian attire instead of Regency). His focus also seems to be more on mainstream stories than on genre, and as a result there are a few things he seems to find essential that I don't think entirely work for me as a reader or author, but that's fodder for a separate post.

The part I think I liked the most was on the story world, which adds a new level to world building. He shows how the story world needs to grow out of character and reflect what's going on in the character's life, then gets into the symbolism and psychological impact of various settings and how they're used in stories. One thought I found very cool was the use of city as ocean -- with the skyline/rooftops as the surface, and then the characters living on different levels, with some up above and others down on the "floor" where it's darker and murkier.

Today's plan is to go back through the whole book, doing all the writing exercises as they apply to my book, and see what happens.

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