Part of our method at The Novelry is to encourage working novelists to read and re-read a 'hero book' during the course of writing their first draft. First for the story, then for the technique and to abide with this one book during the writing of a first draft as a training frame. The act of faith, abiding with it, is good discipline in itself for sticking with the novel, but when you read a masterful novel, it reveals itself to you in layers which you will only perceive after many readings.
This week's blog post comes from our member, Viv Rich, who inspired by our recent writer's retreat has taken an old-school approach to taking a fresh look at her work in progress. Her chosen hero book is The Great Gatsby. You can find our suggested hero books listed here, there's one for every genre and they are chosen for the virtuous story structure which teaches novelists as they read.
Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby and A Call to Arms...
Last week, we were on our annual residential writing course 'The Full English' in Dorset. The value of revision became manifestly abundant over the course of a very intense week taking prose through rounds of work towards a shining, tight truth by the end of our seven days together.
I began the week with a lesson on 'Glamour' - and how what is concealed up front in your novel will of necessity be revealed. We begin our story by showing that to all appearances all's well but the veneer conceals a lie. It's the nature of THE LIE which is at the heart of your story, and it's the chipping away at it, the revelatory process which drives the plot. If you're a writer in search of an idea, start with a big lie.
We looked at how with The Great Gatsby it was Scott Fitzgerald's intention from the start to establish a veneer of glamour in his prose and story. He had his eyes on the big lie - the American Dream - which he foresaw as doomed.
I told my writers...
That was The Great Gatsby, which Fitzgerald began in the wake of wild times had with his wife Zelda, their friends, and total strangers in New York City and on Long Island in 1922. Fitzgerald wrote steadily through 1923, and had a first draft of the novel finished by April 1924.
'Trimalchio' was the title of the finished novel, which he submitted to his publisher, Max Perkins, in October 1924.
Maxwell Perkins enthused about the novel's glamour, (you can read their exchange of letters below) but was uncertain about the way Gatsby's character was revealed.
In 1925 Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, spent six weeks in Rome and on Capri, where Fitzgerald revised the book to meet Perkins's recommendations and in April of 1925, six months after the initial draft had been sent, The Great Gatsby as we now know it was published.
The Great Gatsby...
When I was reading Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, I was struck by the name of the male character, the romantic hero, 'Nick Conway'.
I thought - 'Nick Carraway'?
You will know that is the name of the narrator of The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, and when I started to compare those two books, I began to think about the prose and structure of both side by side. Then I began to compare the roles of the characters in the great classic Gatsby with Conversations with Friends. In Gatsby, Nick Carraway observes the romantic hero, admires him and his beloved Daisy. In Conversations with Friends, the narrator Frances observes and admires most of all Bobbi, who has no love object. This little matter creates a bit of a dead end in the structure of the book; it turns out on closer inspection. Bobbi is self-sufficient in a way I guess many of us would wish our daughters to be; the ultimate modern woman. You may argue she loves Frances, but not the way Gatsby loves...