Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Novel Script

To write a novel, students must understand how authors put their novels together. In the first two weeks of class, our students are working to break assigned novels down into the building blocks of their stories.

This semester, the class is reading four novels: Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, Jeannette Wall’s The Glass Castle, and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. The class divided into groups, one for each novel, based on the book they felt was closest to the story they wanted to write, whether by the book’s timeline, its point of view, or the structure of the narrative (i।e., the ratio of backstory to basetime or how the novel is divided into sections).

Each group will lead a presentation on the framework of their novel, which they document through two processes: the Reverse Storyboard and the DICE checklist.

Cathy Day shows the class storyboards for Dan Chaon's novel, You Remind Me of Me.

Reverse storyboarding follows the same process as regular storyboarding: A story is blocked out scene by scene, noting when certain characters and locations will appear, and what scenes will deal with various aspects of the story’s plot or subplots. The difference is that rather than using these storyboards to construct a story, reverse storyboarding uses a preexisting narrative and breaks it down. This allows the students to see and demonstrate how the author laid out the book to produce the effect of the finished work. They can also see how reordering the novel’s structure would alter the story. And because the book’s narrative is arranged on their storyboards, they see the structure all at once, rather than reading it one scene at a time as they did when reading through their novels.

While reverse storyboarding allows students to see how the story is structured, the DICE checklist allows them to see what makes up a novel’s characters.

Each color represents a different character's scenes.

DICE (which stands for Desire + Initiate + Conflict + Effects) is Cathy Day’s acronym (and slight adaptation) of the novel-writing exercises created by author Michelle Hoover and detailed on her website’s blog,

Alec Brenneman (front), Mo Smith (left), Miranda Wuestefeld (back), and Jennifer Perov (right) work on their presentation of The Glass Castle.

In our class, the students use the DICE prompts to get into the minds of their own characters or, for this project, to see what makes other authors’ characters tick. In the first section, Desire, the students write about the character flaws, chief desire, and signature (the “pitch” line for the novel) of the protagonist or other viewpoint characters.

The second section, Initiate, is what launches the story in motion. In this section, students write about the “unstable ground” of the plot, or the uncomfortable situation at the novel’s beginning with makes the protagonist uncomfortable, but not yet agitated enough to act. It also covers the protagonist’s “wound,” a past trauma that drives the character’s flaw, the inciting incident, which throws the plot into motion, and the point of attack, the event that introduces the story’s conflict.

Conflict is also the third section of the checklist, covering what is at stake in the plot, what obstacles stand in the protagonist’s way, and when/what the story’s climax will be. The last section, Effect, deals with the aftermath of the conflict and the effect the struggle had on the character.

Ashley Ford (left), Lindsey LaVal (back), Meredith Sims (right), and Rachel Rump (front) discuss The Hunger Games.

The group presentations will begin next Tuesday, September 6, starting with The Hunger Games. It will be interesting to see how much the novels differ from each other.

-Lauren Burch

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! Such practical advice! I'm so bookmarking this page.