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All Shapes and Sizes
Transcript of All Shapes and Sizes
, by Tom Franklin
What the Back Cover Can Teach Us
The Inciting Event directly or indirectly leads to the Pull-Through of the story. Think Toto biting Mrs. Gulch vs. the journey to see the Wizard. One starts the story, the other is the Pull-Through. But you see how these two things are related. The problem with Toto eventually instigates the eventual "off to see the Wizard" concept, which is the Pull-Through.
For your book, fill out the following sentence:
My novel opens with ______________.
This event triggers _______________ .
This should form the first paragraph of your back cover copy. This is beginning of your "elevator pitch," as well.
Letting the Back Cover Copy Guide You
More Back Cover
A Falling Star
, by Chantel Acevedo
A Workshop on Novel Structure
All Shapes and Sizes
It's 1911 and the townsfolk of Old Texas, Alabama
have had enough. Every Saturday night for a year, E.O. Smonk has been destroying property, killing
livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men, all from behind the barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over-and-under rifle.
Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty, and goitered--an expert with explosives and knives--Smonk hates horses, goats, and the Irish, and it's high time he was stopped.
But capturing old Smonk won't be easy--and putting him on trial could have shocking and disastrous consequences, considering the terrible secret the citizens of Old Texas are hiding.
The Heart of the Matter
Daysy Maria del Pozo and Stella Maris Morales-Quinn both came to the United States as part of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift--Daysy settling in South Florida with her family and Stella starting a new life with her mother and step-father in Pittsburgh.
Over time, they each find themselves haunted by their families' complicated and painful Cuban pasts. As Stella deals with her mother's suicide and it slowly dawns on Daysy that there are family secrets she must uncover, the reader hears the del Pozo family history, piece by piece, from Daysy's mother.
Soon it becomes clear that Daysy and Stella may share more than their Cuban-American heritage.
Let's break down some of the elements. The first, The Inciting Event, gets the story going. It should never be back-story. It's a chance to introduce your character through action, give us a sense of setting, and an initial problem to solve. The Inciting Event is also sometimes directly related to the hook, or the concept, of the story. Often (though not always), this hook is also the Pull-Through.
So you know how your book kicks off. You also know what is Pulling your reader Through as they read. And you probably have a sense about your character. The question is, is your character alive? It's all in the details.
Let's take a quiz, shall we?
What literary characters do the following images represent?
What Characters Come to Mind?
The Unique, Only-You-Can-Come-Up-With-Them-Details Make your Character Come Alive
The place where my character lives is unique
Two unique personality traits that belong to my
character are _______ and _________.
The biggest problem in my character's life is
More on the Pull-Through
As we discussed before, the Pull-Through and the Inciting Event are related. The latter lays down the pavement for the former. The Pull-Through is the reason we follow the story. In Tom Franklin's book, we're reading to find out if the town will eventually "get" Smonk.
Note that the Pull-Through is often, if not always, a problem that needs to be solved. What's your character's problem? What does your character WANT?
Back Cover Copy for the Story of
Adam & Eve
Set before the dawn of time, Adam and Eve find themselves created out of dust and Adam's left rib, respectively, by God. Plunked down in the lush Garden of Eden, the new humans must figure out how to survive and obey their maker.
In Eden, the two learn what it means to be alive. Adam loves gardening and tanning. Eve uncovers a knack for talking to reptiles. He's upstanding, she's impetuous. They form a wonderful team.
That is, until Eve comes across a talking snake, a tree full of forbidden fruit, and a new sensation--temptation. When Eve makes a catastrophic choice, the stability of the new humans' time in Eden comes into question, and the future of all of humanity is shaped forever.
Write the back cover copy of your novel-in-progress (or the one you're still dreaming up!).
I'll ask some folks to share, so screw your courage to the sticking place!
Ten minutes. Go!
What you have now are two tentpoles for your novel--the Inciting Event and the Pull Through. Imagine both of those tentpoles as scenes or multiple scenes, which are the building blocks of a novel.
Where do the other tentpoles come from?
A novel is built by a series of complications, resolutions, reversals of hope, and so on.
The first problem Dorothy faces is Mrs. Gulch wanting to kill Toto.
She complicates this by running away, which is then complicated her meeting the fortune-teller, who tells her that Aunt Em is ill. This sends Dorothy running back home, but THAT'S complicated by a tornado, which sends her to Oz, and so on and so forth.
Each of those complications is a scene.
Sometimes Dorothy gets what she wants--the Emerald City!
But it's not always what she needs--the Wizard is a fake.
You might consider each major complication a kind of tentpole, too.
The Heart of the Matter
So far, we've talked about novel structure in really concrete terms. And there are many books out there that break it down for you by page.
Generally speaking, the inciting event should happen in the first chapter, and the pull through should be evident very shortly after that. If you're at page 50 and neither of these things has happened, the novel is in trouble.
But the other thing, the thing that cannot be measured by page number, is the heart of the story.
What's it about ABOUT? What's at the heart of the narrative?
For Dorothy, it's about saving her dog, going to Oz, coming home. But it's ABOUT realizing that Aunt Em loves her, that she is loved beyond measure by everyone at that farm, and that she doesn't need to go over the rainbow to know what love is.
Note that the heart of the matter is laid down bit by bit. We first hear of Dorothy's love for her Aunt Em when she runs away and meets the fortune teller. That's SO EARLY IN THE STORY. But it needs to be there. The heart of the matter should not be a surprise, but rather, a slowly evolving notion.
So ask yourself...
What's your book about ABOUT?
Take ten minutes to write it down
for yourself. No sharing. This doesn't go on the back cover. It's for you, and ultimately, for your reader to intuit based on the scenes you put in place.
Some Final Tips
Allow your back cover to be your initial guide. Later, when writing to agents and editors, that copy is what they're looking for in your queries. You will rewrite it many times as you write. Let it be a fluid and organic document.
Get to your inciting event early. Like Homer did with The Odyssey, begin in the middle of the action. Don't front load the novel with backstory.
Allow the inciting event to trigger the pull-through. This is the reason we turn the page.
Consider your character's problems and desires. Allow the resolution or lack of resolution to these problems, and the granting or denial of desires to shape the action of the novel.
Pro-tip: characters are best described by action. Don't let them sit and think too long.
There will likely be a culminating event--the thing that changes everything forever and the answer to the question posed by the pull-through. That event should feel inevitable, and it will come very late in the novel
Keep in mind (on a post it, at the top of your document, as a tattoo) what the novel is ABOUT. What is the heart of the matter? Let that heart, that ABOUTNESS, shape your scenes as you go. Imagine that ABOUTNESS as a guide for the novel, making sure each scene leans into it in some way.
Note how many of these objects are related to a character action.