Feb 14, 2011

Kindle as a writer's tool

As a Kindle owner, I was relieved to hear that Kindle books would soon have page numbers. Mostly because I hate those weird "location number" digit-strings jabbering at me from the bottom of the screen.

So I downloaded the new software, and...

...none of the books I own have page numbers. Of course.

But I discovered two nice things instead:

Thing One: The new software did erase the nasty location numbers, leaving only the "percentage read" number in the lower left corner. My screen looks much less cluttered (and, somehow, makes the % number more meaningful, maybe because I'm not trying to figure out some kind of equivalence between the % and the location numbers). Suddenly, I don't even miss page numbers. I know where I am in my book with a quick glance at the lower left corner.

Thing Two: And then it occurred to me that, as a writer, I can follow along in any novel and see at a glance how that novel's structure is revealed by its % numbers. Here's how:

I'm a fan of Linda Seger's book, Making a Good Script Great. In it, Seger explains the basic structure of a movie script, which can also be applied to novels. It's a 3-act structure with distinct milestones: turning points, a midpoint, climax, and resolution. Seger maintains that each of these milestones should come approximately at a certain percentage of progress through the script/novel, and if the writer sticks (more or less) to this structure, the story will flow well, without lagging. For example, the climax should occur at approximately the 90% mark.

Back to my Kindle. I'm currently reading All Clear, a time-travel novel by Connie Willis.* I was plowing along well past the 50% mark, the plot was picking up speed, and all the many pieces of the puzzle began falling into place.

I glanced down at the % number, and where was I?


The story built, the plot threads continued to tie together, and then came the surprising and impressive climax. Which was at...


That's when I realized that the basic plot structure of this (very complicated) book could still be boiled down to a tried-and-true, foolproof plan. A plan that was laid bare by my Kindle in one little number. And a plan that I can replicate when I write my own novels.

True, you can figure out pretty much the same thing with a physical book, by counting page numbers or even by comparing the thickness of the pages left as you read. But somehow, that little number in the lower left-hand corner makes me feel like that book's author is whispering a secret into my ear.

*Fans of Willis may know that All Clear is actually the second part of a complete story begun with Blackout. So you could probably identify milestones based on the entire 2-volume story, but I've discovered that All Clear has its own structure, and milestones that still fit the 3-act structure outlined in Seger's book.

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