Writers On Writing / The power of bullet-points and Perfume, with Timothy Daly

We interviewed internationally renowned playwright Timothy Daly ahead of his upcoming course, Narrative Structure for Fiction Writers.

Timothy Daly

What advice would you give to someone just about to start writing a story, to help them plan their narrative structure well?

I would give such writers six words: the power of the bullet-point. What I call ‘bullet-point plotting’ is one of the most useful ‘trainers’ of  structure in storytelling that I’ve ever stumbled across. It works for fiction, theatre, TV and film. Basically, without any (initial) recourse to so-called beautiful writing style, you list ‘what happens next in the story’. Each concrete and separable moment is given a bullet-point, initially, in chronological order. Doing this forces the writer, to realise, first, how little plot s/he actually has, and second, if that is actually a problem! But at the very least, it allows you to think of your writing in terms of the story you are telling.

Is there a particular narrative structure that you find yourself falling back on in your own work? Or do you like to experiment with different storytelling rhythms and patterns?

Each story tends to create its own form. It’s why we need to know most of the vast array of narrative patterns that have made fiction such a powerful expressive tool through the centuries. I will be trying to show my fellow writers as many narrative patterns and structures as I can in the time available.

Give an example of a work of fiction which knowingly broke conventional narrative structure – with an incredible result.

I’ll never forget the impact of reading Perfume, by the German writer Patrick Susskind. It didn’t break with convention so much as transform it by its rich, imagistic detail and a sense of wonder. The plot raced to its amazing conclusion – a technique I’ve never forgotten. 

Timothy Daly is one of Australia’s most internationally produced playwrights. His recent play, The Man in the Attic, was awarded Australia’s most prestigious award for a new play, the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, and was recently performed in Paris. He advises on over 100 plays and productions a year both in Australia and the US. His book, 21st Century Playwriting, a Manual of Contemporary Techniques, is published by Smith & Kraus (New York).

Narrative Structure for Fiction Writers will take place on Saturday 10 August, 10am-4pm. Book your spot here >

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