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of clockwork men

Form, Content and Shape

It’s a quarter past six in the morning, and I have a cup of strong coffee. As that’s how a good deal of this project was written, it seemed appropriate to start thinking about the overall shape and structure that way too. I’ve discussed the form and content connection at some length, although I suppose discussing it never quite reaches the same depth as knowing it.

The form of the thing was completely tied up in its content. There is no chicken or egg, they’re both chickeggs. Or something of that sort. As I was writing it (and planning – see the ubiquitous post-it board) I was shaping the overall structure at the same time. That’s a weakness in some instances – I’ll talk about the video sequences in another of these pieces – but it was a distinct strength when it came to planning how each section interacted with the others.

I knew what the plot was at all times. There are at least a dozen (probably many more) instances where the exact shape of things surprised me, as is supposed to happen when you’re writing, but largely I had the shape of the story in my head. What was important was to let the detail emerge, and to write as in as ‘unstructured’ a manner as possible. There are some sequences that directly follow another (There’s a tiny piece that consists of ‘He is standing on my face’, for example), but they’re written in such a way as they could follow half a dozen other pieces. And, although I didn’t send a set of instructions out with the project (again, more on that another morning), I do hope that readers ‘got’ that element of the links between sections.

The form and content argument extends to the prints too. All of the content ‘within’ the book (that which is held online) is written in one of three voices. I’ve said somewhere else that there are two characters and three voices, and it’s true, although I was trying to be clever when I said it. The text on the prints is in another voice. It’s probably as near to mine as it gets, and that was deliberate. The prints are ‘anchors’. They’re the corner pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that comprises the rest of the book, and so they had an important job to do. Each one:

  • Beyond the skin
  • On the dead shore
  • Picture a girl in a party dress
  • Snapping at phantoms

Has something significant about the whole story in it, and something that forms a bedrock of the rest of the book. ‘Beyond the skin’ is the start of a meditation on the Minotaur myth, but done so in a way that introduces a set of themes that circle that thread of the whole story. It’s important that each reader has access to that piece of text, and the illustration that it belongs to (I made each illustration too – that did get covered, right? I worry sometimes that people imagine I have an army of helpers scurrying around providing other ancillary content), so that they are rooted in something. ‘Picture a girl in a party dress’ is definitely the voice of the author (I am going to write one of these that’s called ‘We call upon the author to explain’. Thanks Tim for the nudge), and is a set of ideas to get into your head before you start reading the rest of the book.

There are more things to say about form and content, and shape, but I decided just now that I’ll write these while I wake up and the coffee hits, and then post them by 7-ish. I’ll break that rule by the weekend, but it’s good to start with something. Reply on twitter @tomabba or @anovelxperiment or leave a comment here. If you want to know more about an aspect of this project, suggest it and I’ll write something, if there’s something to write.


One comment for “Form, Content and Shape”

  1. [...] the wood is important, nor the lake, so why should the reader? The story is a jigsaw puzzle (see day two of these entries), and the reader has no more idea of the whole picture than the central characters [...]

    Posted by other things | Writing backwards, and upside-down | May 23, 2011, 6:43 am

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