I just finished Jim Butcher’s latest book in the Dresden series, Cold Days, and it was a wild roller coaster ride, as they always are.
The structure of a Dresden novel is pretty simple: open with the classic “into pot, already boiling,” then keep turning up the heat, throwing ever more dangerous/painful/insurmountable problems at the protagonist, raising the stakes again, and again, until a final couple of battles, and a solution that you feel you should have seen coming, but usually didn’t (or if you did, you hoped you were wrong).
They’re fun reads. And it’s a good story-telling method with a long history. Most people meet Freytag’s Pyramid in beginning creative writing classes. Gustav Freytag developed the pyramid to illustrate a classic Greek five-act play. Few modern stories follow his pattern, collapsing several of his stages together. The basic outline: protagonist confronts problem, struggles with it through a series of events of rising dramatic tension, which comes to a head, then is resolved, and the reader gets some sense of closure.
The Dresden stories take a high octane action adventure approach to the story, with the escalation of the stakes happening faster and faster. It’s kind of like being strapped to a missle, and not knowing for certain where you’re going, and whether everything will blow up when you get there.
I’ve written a few novella- and novellete-length stories using that break neck pace, and it’s kind of fun. I’ve not successfully pulled it off in a novel, yet. In a novel you need several subplots, and I like giving the reader that sense of closure on each one. That means some of the tension gets relieved earlier in the story, instead of just continuing to pile on. Or writing an extremely long and complicated climax. And my novels are complicated enough, already.
And it just occurs to me, that may be why there are almost always two really big battles at the end of most Dresden books. I may have to try re-reading a few and charting out the sub plots.
Purely for academic purposes, of course. And to hone my craft. Not because I just read one fantastically fun story and the next one won’t be out for at least a year. It’s not like I’m addicted.
I can stop re-reading them any time I want…