Vision: A Resource f

 Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Book Review: 

The Weekend Novelist
By Robert J. Ray

Reviewed By Belea T. Keeney
2005,
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.

Ray 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 title.

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