I’ve heard some good exercises to improve plot or structure, but I read a book recently that gave me a new notion—a notion that threatens to turn my book upside down.
David Ball, in his “Technical Manual for Reading Plays,” called Backwards & Forwards argues that the way to read a play for meaning on stage is backwards, not just forwards.
He says that the play is “a series of dominoes: one event triggers the next, and so on.” He invites the reader to think of arranging dominoes on end, close enough together, so that if one is knocked over it knocks over the next and then the next.
If you read a good play forwards, you won’t notice this causality. That’s because if Event A triggers Event B, you know moving forward, that Event A could have triggered a whole array of other things. But it didn’t—it triggered Event B.
If you start reading from the end—the last event (let’s call it Event Z), then the event which caused it (Event Y), then the event which caused it (Event X), you can see that you couldn’t have Event Z without Event Y occurring, and you couldn’t have Event X without Event Y. So while reading forwards gives you a variety of options and thus adds mystery to the story, reading backwards is a series of “of courses” as you trace the play backwards.
While Ball makes a distinction between reading a play for performing on stage and reading a play as literature, I would suggest that his method for reading works for writing a story. One caveat is that more unique and unusual variations on chronology make it more difficult to understand Ball’s point, but I think his argument is valid at heart of any story.
So why does it turn my book upside down? To analyze my structure backwards, I have to start with the end. But I don’t have an ending yet! Since it’s not a novel, I can’t manufacture an ending. I haven’t decided if I’ve lived the last event or if it is still in my future. Until I do live it or decide I have already lived it and know what it is, I can’t work backwards on structure!
However, I can take the last event I’ve written and read backward from there, searching for cause and effect and revising where needed.
Have you ever read or analyzed your own or someone else’s story backwards?
Just a reminder that I have a story in the Midlife Collage contest this week. To find my story go to Midlife Collage OR Facebook page. Remember: it’s “Still Photo” by Luanne Castle. Please comment after my story and “like” it with the Facebook link if you have a Facebook account. You can tell them which story you want to win in “closing arguments.”