What makes a good novel? Let’s start at square one and focus on what makes a novel. You may have already (and with much relish) thought up your characters and your setting and a bit of what might happen in your story. Now you need to structure your story. We’re talking about plot, a sequence of events in which to place your story’s fortunate (or not so fortunate) characters. The golden thread that connects critical actions, traits, motives, goals and their consequences. There isn’t really a right or wrong way to write a novel. One can, however, decide whether or not a novel is well written—that’s where technique comes in. After all, a novel is a work of art produced by skill and inventive flair, not a bookcase you can assemble with a step by step manual from IKEA.
In the quest to show us how storylines have been made as opposed to how they should be made, Terry Richard Bazes highlights the creative opportunities to be found in fiction writing. There are various approaches to the concept of plotting fiction. Bazes focuses on three of these strategies as he examines the novels of three notable writers, whose works hail from diverse genres: Dr. No, a thriller in the swashbuckling James Bond series created by Ian Fleming; the beloved novel of manners Pride & Prejudice by the famed Regency-era novelist Jane Austen and the modern black comedy A Handful of Dust by the great English author Evelyn Waugh.
One of Bazes’ principal arguments is that every story needs a conflict and it’s up to you to decide where to situate it and what kind of conflict it should be. It’s helpful to know that all three novels introduce their conflict in their initial chapters. The story can then unfold incrementally like Waugh’s novel or with suspense like Fleming’s spy thriller. In the case of Austen’s novel, Bazes underlines the dramatic possibilities of interlacing subplots that affect the main trajectory. He discusses the theory of dramatic structure in Freytag’s Pyramid and proposes useful methods like plotting important incidents early on and ‘writing backwards’ to stay on track. This book would therefore suit all literary enthusiasts, all writers and readers who possess one thing in common: a love of literature. Bazes professes the same attachment at a professional level also, being a writer of fiction himself and having completed a PhD in 17th and 18th century English literature. He knows his stuff, basically.
Though it is strongly advisable to read the three studied novels before taking on this one, each book has its own chapter, which means you can skip the parts you don’t plan on reading just yet. The book is rather thin, but do not be deceived by its lightness for its pages hold an abundance of reflections on the writerly craft. Its portability is an added bonus, so be sure to look for this brilliant little gem at the bookstore. It will be referred to quite often as you plan out that mammoth dystopian novel you’ve been anxious to write.