Thursday, June 30, 2011

Top Down and Bottom Up

There are probably other, traditional terms to describe what I'm about to say, terms that literary critics, agents and college professors would use.  I don't know those terms.  This is how the Story Monkeys talk about this stuff.

A good novel works well from both a top down and a bottom up perspective.

The top down perspective is the perspective that looks at structure.  The top down perspective asks is the story set up properly in the beginning?  Is there an inciting incident no later than page 50?  Do the subplots feed into the resolution of the main plot, resolving just before or at the main plot complex?  How is the bulk of the story structured -- is it a quest with three tasks, is it organized into four acts around four different places, what?  Is the story properly paced -- do action/tension parts (scenes) alternate with slower scenes where the reader catches his breath (sequel)?

The bottom up perspective looks at the story from the perspective of each character?  Bottom up asks what does this character want overall and what is he doing to get it?  What does he want in this scene and what is he doing to get it?  What is this character afraid of?  Who does this character like, dislike, fear, resent, love?  What means does this character consider legitimate, and what means will he shun out of fear, distaste or moral sentiment?

A novel has to work from both perspectives.  In my experience, the top down perspective is strategy, it's charting the course, it's knocking away the biggest pieces of marble to find a head or an arm.  The bottom up perspective is tactics, it's steering around the icebergs, it's the small, careful strokes that reveal the sculpture's toenails and eyelashes.

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