Rhythm and Sequences: How Graeme Simsion does it

We’ve been looking at the rolling, mid-level rhythm of story, and how sequences might be the way to achieve that.  The Bestseller Code gave us a list of the top ten books with good rhythms (none of which were as good/steady as TDC and FSoG).

The book I picked from the list to test the sequences=rhythm theory–the theory that sequences are the path to purposely developing this rhythm–was Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, and I think it was a good choice for several reasons.

The first half of the book is written in pretty clear sequences, and the second half is somewhat less clear, which correlated with my opinion that the first half was better than the second half.

Also, the first half had more consistent sequences, in terms of length, while the second half had a super short, one-chapter sequence and a very long, 20%-of-the-story sequence.  This seems to support what the Bestseller Code authors say about only FSoG and TDC having perfect curves.  In other words, other books, even those in the rhythm top ten (aside from FSoG/TDC), don’t have perfect curves because–possibly–their sequences aren’t similar in length.

Also interesting: By my count The Rosie Project has eight sequences, the most recommended number.

All of this seems to suggest that (1) sequences are a way to purposely achieve that rolling mid-level rhythm and (2) doing so, and perfecting your sequences craft, is worth the effort.

GRAEME SIMSION’S THE ROSIE PROJECT

To identify Mr. Simsion’s sequences, I mostly relied on Eric Edson‘s insight about Fresh News.  A sequence starts when the character gets a piece of new information that sets up a new Dramatic Question/Goal, and it continues until we get an Answer/Fresh News.  (Usually, but not always. See Sequence 7)

Here’s how The Rosie Project plays out.  But first:  (1) There are major spoilers ahead. (2) I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting.  I say this because this analysis is going to strip the story to its bare and boring essentials, and the story deserves better than that.  If you haven’t read it and it at all appeals to you, it’s worth the read for the entertainment factor as well as to gain clarity about sequences.  It’s almost like Mr. Simsion built his sequence contexts/titles directly into his text.

SYNOPSIS OF THE ROSIE PROJECT

The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, a socially awkward associate professor of genetics.  It’s suggested early on that Don has Asperger’s, but he doesn’t seem to realize this.  Don’s 40ish and wants a wife, but he has trouble dating and with people in general.  He’s got two friends: Gene, a 56yo psychology professor and Gene’s wife, Claudia.  These two have an open marriage and Gene takes enthusiastic advantage.

SEQUENCES IN THE ROSIE PROJECT

Sequence One:  The Wife Problem
Chapters 1-2, pages 1-17, 6%

  • Dramatic Question: Will Don find a solution to the Wife Problem?
  • Content: Substituting for Gene, Don gives a lecture on Asperger’s. The host asks Don how the Aspie-friendly company Don mentions in his speech finds people with Asperger’s to hire.  Don says they probably “use a questionnaire as a preliminary filter” and that gives him an idea/Fresh News.
  • Dramatic Answer: Yes, Don can use a questionnaire to weed out all the unsuitable life partners.
  • Progress Forward: Don initiates the Wife Project.
  • Emotional Shift: “extremely annoy[ed]” (-) to excited and focused (+)
  • Notes: Chapter 1 has a funny (+) story about an unsuitable lady who only eats apricot ice cream.  The second chapter has a sad (-) story about how Don used to have four friends, but his sister died and his friend Daphne is now in a home with deteriorating mental capacity.

Sequence Two:  The Wife Project Questionnaire
Chapters 3-5, pages 18-38, 13%

  • Dramatic Question: Will the questionnaire find Don a suitable wife candidate?
  • Content: Don has an encounter with the Dean that leaves him determined to filter out women like her.  He fine tunes the questionnaire with Gene and Claudia.  He test drives it with a group date, then puts it online, hands it to women at a party, and uses it while speed dating.  “The questionnaire is an excellent filter.”
  • Dramatic Answer:  No, not yet anyway.   But . . .
  • Progress Forward:  Gene says he’ll pick a couple women from the questionnaires “for practice.”
  • Emotional Shift: “energized, both physically and mentally” (+) to a “lack of enthusiasm” (-)

Sequence Three:  Date with Rosie
Chapters 6-9, pages 39-71, 24%

  • Dramatic Question: Is Rosie suitable for the Wife Project?
  • Content: An hour or so after Gene takes the questionnaires, a woman comes to Don’s office saying, “Professor Barrow [Gene] suggested I see you.”  Remembering what Gene said about picking someone for practice, Don’s response is to ask her to dinner. Despite the date being a disaster, Don has fun. But fun’s not relevant to the Wife Project.
  • Notes: Rosie tells Don that her mom’s deceased and that Phil has been her dad all her life, but that Phil, like her mom, has blue eyes, and so her biological dad must be the guy her mom had a one-time affair with at her med school graduation party.
  • Dramatic Answer:  No, Rosie fails many requirements of the Wife Project questionnaire.  But . . .
  • Progress Forward: Don decides he can still hang out with her for the purpose of helping her identify her biological father.
  • Emotional Shift: resigned (-) to pleasure “a woman had given me her phone number” (even as he feels “a twinge of regret” at finding Rosie unsuitable) (+)

Sequence Four:  The Father Project–Likely Suspects
Chapters 10-12, pages 72-98, 34%

  • Dramatic Question: Is her biological father who she thinks?
  • Content:  They gather DNA from all the likely suspects.  No matches. Rosie says she doesn’t know who else it could be, so she’s done looking.
  • Dramatic Answer: No, but there were other possibilities at her mom’s graduation party.
  • Progress Forward: Don decides to pursue his “continued interest in the Father Project” (and Rosie) . . . at the med school class reunion.
  • Emotional Shift: excited (+) to dissatisfied (-)

Sequence Five:  The Father Project–The Reunion
Chapters 13-15, pages 99-130, 45%

  • Dramatic Question: Will they find Rosie’s father at the med school reunion?
  • Content:  Don looks up the likely suspects and learns that they’re having a class reunion in a couple weeks.  Don adjusts his schedule to accommodate memorizing a bartending book so he can work the reunion and gather DNA with Rosie.
  • Dramatic Answer:  No, none of the attendees are her father.  But there are eleven possibilities outstanding.
  • Notes: Rosie asks Don why he’s doing the Father Project (hoping he’s interested in her). Don says he doesn’t know why and he also tells her that she failed the Wife Project questionnaire.  Rosie ends their working/meeting together arrangement/relationship/whatever-it-is.
  • Emotional Shift: Wanting to spend more time with Rosie (-) to having a great time with her at the Reunion (+) to sad that Rosie ended their arrangement (-)
  • Progress Forward:  Don receives an applicant who passed the Wife Project questionnaire.

Sequence Six:  The Bianca Disaster
Chapters 16-17, pages 131-150, 51%

  • Dramatic Question: Is Bianca the girl for Don?
  • Content:  Don invites Bianca, a dancer, to the University Ball.  Rosie’s there too.  Don embarrasses Bianca with his dancing (on purpose, we find out). Rosie saves him from the hecklers in the crowd.  This is a major high point in the story. (+)  They share a cab and their personal stories on the way home.  She invites him up, but he says no.  She asks if he finds her attractive.  “‘I haven’t really noticed,’ I told the most beautiful woman in the world.”
  • Dramatic Answer:  Yes, Bianca’s perfect according to the questionnaire and she’s on time, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke . . . but he sabotages the date anyway.
  • Emotional Shift: Feeling like he has the “perfect date” but regretting Rosie (-) to rejecting the “perfect date” and having a good time with Rosie (+)
  • Progress Forward:  Rosie’s not a wife possibility, but she could be a sex possibility.

Sequence Seven: The Sex Project
Chapter 18, pages 151-157, 54%

  • Dramatic Question: Will Don and Rosie be no-strings-attached sex partners?
  • Content:  Don consults Gene and Claudia about Rosie.  She’s not suitable for a wife, but they’ve both said they’re not interested in that anyway, so she’d be a good friend-with-benefits. Don tells Rosie (in front of people) that he’s reconsidered her offer, but Rosie says it was just a joke.  Don says they should still meet about the last eleven possibilities in the Father Project, but Rosie says there is no project. It seems the project and their friendship are over.
  • Dramatic Answer:  No, and furthermore, Rosie doesn’t want any contact with Don.
  • Emotional Shift: excited (+) to sad and confused (-)
  • Progress Forward:  Don decides to continue the father project on his own.

Sequence Seven: The Father Project–Proceeding Alone
Chapter 19-22, pages 158-186, 64%

  • Dramatic Question: Will Don find Rosie’s father in the outstanding eleven possibilities?  Will they become friends again?  (Both questions are pretty clearly posed and answered in this sequence.)
  • Content:  Don obtains DNA from nine of the last eleven people, but two living in New York decline.  Don’s friend Daphne, who went to live in a nursing home, dies and leaves him enough money to cover a trip to New York.  Don asks Rosie to go with him to New York to get the two New York doctors’ DNA.
  • Dramatic Answer:  No, Don doesn’t find her father in the samples he obtained.  Yes, they become friends again.
  • Emotional Shift: angry (-) to happy, but anxious (+)
  • Progress Forward:  Rosie agrees to go to New York.

Sequence Seven: New York
Chapter 23-28, pages 187-225, 77%

  • Unifying Aspect: The setting, New York
  • Notes: I debated whether to call this sequence “The Father Project–New York.”  Ultimately, I decided that the unifying aspect of this sequence is setting, not dramatic question, for two reasons:  (1) The story’s Dramatic Question–Will they find Rosie’s father?–underlies this sequence, but this sequence doesn’t answer, specifically, whether either of the two New Yorkers is her father. (Unlike the previous sequences, which did answer their specific father focuses.)  We don’t learn the answer about the New Yorkers until we learn the true identity of Rosie’s father at the end of the story. (2) This sequence does include gathering DNA scenes, but the sequence is much more about Rosie and Don getting to know each other better.  Also, (3?) while we, the readers, wonder if Don and Rosie will get together, that question isn’t a driving force in the sequence, so I don’t think it’s the unifying aspect (dramatic question) either.
  • Content:  Don takes increasing risks to gather DNA. Rosie messes with his schedule. They talk to a local college professor, setting up the story’s resolution.  At one point, Don gets impatient waiting for Rosie to get ready.  He goes to her room. She answers in her towel.  He stops things to get the sex book Gene gave him.  When he comes back with the book, Rosie changes her mind.
  • Emotional Shift: happy (+) to depressed and confused (-)
  • Dramatic Answer: not applicable to this sequence
  • Progress Forward:  Back home, Don learns Gene was at Rosie’s mom’s class graduation party. Given what we know about Gene, Don gets Gene’s DNA.

Sequence Eight: The Father Project–Gene
Chapter 29-36, pages 226-292, 100%

  • Dramatic Question: Is Gene Rosie’s father?
  • Content:  While testing the last samples of DNA, Don and Rosie get in a fight and he turns off the DNA machine–and then the Dean takes his lab key, so he can’t finish the test.  During the fight, Rosie tells Don he’d be perfect . . . if he were capable of loving, wasn’t so scheduled, and was better behaved socially.  Don initiates The Don Project and fixes these objectionable things.  He then initiates The Rosie Project and tries to get her back.  They agree that he’s not capable of loving her the way she wants to be loved, so they don’t get together.  This is very sad. (- at 92%)  He ruminates for a couple chapters and realizes he can and does love her.  He tells her and they decide to get married.
  • Notes:  I debated whether The Don Project and The Rosie Project were their own sequences, but their delineations weren’t very clear, weren’t very long, and were braided together with chapters tying up the loose ends of some subplots I didn’t mention, so . . . ?? Like I said in the introduction, the sequences got less clear as the story progressed.  Ultimately, we had that Fresh News of Gene possibly being the father, and we didn’t get the answer until the end of the story, so I went with that.
  • Dramatic Answer:  No, Gene is not her dad, and neither are the New York doctors.  It turns out Phil, Rosie’s “stepdad,” despite having blue eyes to Rosie’s brown, is her biological father.  (Don got Phil’s DNA during a fight with him as part of the Rosie Project.)
  • Emotional Shift: “So unhappy” that he’s lost perspective on his career, his reputation, and his “holy schedule” (-) to having a plan to get Rosie back (+) to depressed she’s still not happy with him (-) to happy and amazed at life (+)
  • Projection Forward:  They’re married now, living in New York

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 12.52.13 PM

I made this graph in Pages, so the percentages are all rounded to the nearest 5%, and there’s, sadly, no curvy rounding at the peaks/valleys–and I wasn’t that meticulous about judging the degrees of negativity/positivity–but it’s close enough.  =D

UP NEXT

After doing this and seeing that sequences could be the key to rhythm, I’m curious about comparing my human-derived sequences rhythm to The Bestseller Code’s algorithm-derived rhythm.  The authors gave us two of their algorithm’s graphs, so I think I’m going to do this again with FSoG and/or TDC and see how it compares to the computer-generated graphs.

***

Well, that’s it for me.  What about you?  What do you think?  Do Sequences = Rhythm?  Tell us in the comments.

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