By Robert J. Ray
Reviewed By Belea T. Keeney
Belea T. Keeney
Building a house? You'd use an
architect's blueprint, get a site plan, line up your subcontractors, right?
Writing a novel? Try Robert J. Ray's The Weekend Novelist.
Of all the writing reference books I've
bought over the years, (and we're talking dozens and dozens), this one
helped me the most in finishing my first novel. Ray's hands-on, nitty-gritty
approach to the details of writing a novel is especially useful to
linear/logical writers who naturally work from outlines. And it's also
user-friendly to non-linear writers who may sit down at the keyboard, and
float away in the words, only to find out that the tangent doesn't really
have a place in the book. Ray acknowledges the spiritual and emotional
aspects of the creative act, and he also emphasizes the sheer hard work
required to craft a novel.
Ray's premise is that you can write a novel in one year, using weekends to
complete the work. By using a pre-planned approach to characterization,
plot, scene building, and key scenes, Ray leads you through developing your
protagonist, antagonist and helper characters, as well as their back
stories. In giving each character an agenda for each scene, you help
"front-load" your brain with their conflicts and actually writing the
material becomes easier.
After Character Work, comes Scene Building, and these building blocks are
formed from Ray's storyboard concept. These pre-writing exercises allow you
build the elements of a particular scene. The exercises help get the
time/place/temperature/setting fixed in your mind (he advises that you
choose setting with care and let it flavor the scene) and identify which
characters will be appearing as well as their agendas. The exercises walk
you through pre-planning the action and dialogue with text and subtext for
both, deciding on point-of-view, and preparing the scene's climax and exit
line. I found these invaluable in letting me jot down notes and ideas during
the workweek, then using these storyboards, I was able to do the real
writing on the weekends.
also advises writing the six Key Scenes early, then working other scenes as
needed for support. He proposes breaking down scenes into Acts One, Two, and
Three. After an initial, white-hot, no-editing-allowed Discovery Draft, a
Meditation Draft follows, which allows the writer to go back and deepen
certain scenes, complete any research needed, and follow through on
subplots. The Final Draft is for polishing and minor revisions, plus
standard editing for mechanics.
Published in 1994, this book has great relevance for today's writers. It
could be used as a textbook for a novel writing class. I found my copy
online several years ago and as of this writing, Amazon had over twenty used
copies listed for sale. Dell should consider re-printing this valuable
You're the word-crafter, laying out the novel's framework, then putting
bricks and mortar in place. With this book, Ray is the architect, giving you
a detailed plan for completing the project.
The Weekend Novelist
by Robert J. Ray, Dell Trade Paperback,
currently out of print, available used/online, ISBN: 0-440-50594-1