Further thoughts on the narrative structure of Mr. Ruin.

Mike GristEditing, The Ruin War, Writing Leave a Comment

As I wrote yesterday, I got feedback from my beta-read/developmental edit that the new version of Mr. Ruin got dull in the back half. I’ve been thinking about this since then, and this is where I’m at.

I’ve got two threads, call them A and B. A is the ‘real world’, set approx 2364, and it follows Ritry Goligh and his battles with Mr. Ruin, leading to a climactic battle. Thread B follows the chord as they jack deep into a mind, seeking some unknown target at the center.

I wrote the book entirely as an A B A B A B pattern. It threw people off because it was complex. Each thread was hard enough to follow on its own – with concepts and vocabulary and characters – so interweaving constantly left people very confused about who or what any of these people were, what they wanted and why. It didn’t help that both threads are told in present first-person tense.

So I switched it a little, opting for AAA BBB AAA BBB structure. This gave the reader more time to identify the individual threads and figure out what each one was about, before the flip came to the other thread.

In my recent edits, the plan was to go completely AAAAAAAA BBBBBBBBB A end. You see here that the B-thread happens right at the climax moment of the A thread. This chronology is unchangeable. I figured that it could work, gambling people would transfer their sense of narrative urgency from the A-thread to the B-thread smoothly, heightening everything.

Well, I’ve had my editor say otherwise, and that makes sense. At the climax of the A-thread, readers want the climax of that story. They are definitely not in the mode for another 40,000 words of build up to the joint climax.

This makes perfect sense. Even if readers continue reading at that stage, it’ll be with one eye on the A-thread climax, just waiting impatiently for that to come. In all my editing over these months, bringing out the narrative urgency of each individual thread, I didn’t think too much about how this cross-over would work practically.

In most narratives there is one thing providing the urgency. Other goals and threats may dance around it, but ‘story’ itself is one major threat or change. In A-thread it’s Mr. Ruin and the survival of Ritry. In B-thread it’s the general survival of the chord against a range of environmental enemies. Even though they’re connected, they’re different things. you can’t just transfer a feeling of narrative urgency.

A great parrallel is the movie Inception. The first half of the movie is largely told in the real world, with dives into the mind. The second half is one long and deep dive, much like my current strcuture. The difference is – in Inception the characters are all the same characters, pursuing the exact same stakes, fighting fresh enemies but really they’re the same enemies as all along.

In my book the B-thread characters are all versions of my A-thread lead character, but it doesn’t feel that way. The enemy is quite different, ie – it is not directly Mr. Ruin.

OK. So all that leaves is to go back to intertwining threads. AAAA BBBB AAA BBB.

I’m glad to see this. It’s frustrating but I think it’s real, so this is what I’ll return to, and call it done!  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *