This was released through SAIC’s internal web news. Was pretty cool, so I thought I’d share.
<strong>Jim Abbiati Puts Prose in Its Place</strong>
<em>Written by Elliott Smith</em>
Can being a great engineer help you write great prose?
“It’s a matter of how someone can take science and apply it to the arts,” Jim Abbiati said.
As any aspiring author will admit, writing a book is an amazingly difficult undertaking. Abbiati wants to make that easier by helping authors take the next step to becoming a better writer through his recently published how-to book on prose construction.
“Most people fail at writing because, though they might have a great story to tell, they don’t know how to put the words on the page,” said Abbiati, a software systems analyst at Science Applications International Corporation. “There are a specific set of rules that you have to follow, and I teach these rules in an easy-to-understand kind of way in my book.”
Abbiati defines prose as a distilled set of writing that portrays a story or story segment through a narrator and/or through a character’s senses.
“The NORTAV Method for Writers: The Secret to Constructing Prose Like the Pros” is the result of more than eight years of work for Abbiati. NORTAV is an acronym for “narration, observation, reaction, thought, action, and vocalization,” the fundamental beats used by an author at any given time to illustrate the events and content of a story.
“Early on I realized there was a process involved in constructing professional prose, but no one was teaching it,” he said. “There are no universities, no how-to books, no workshops that show how prose is actually structured on the page.”
<strong>Experience Proves To Be the Biggest Teacher</strong>
Given his own writing background, Abbiati felt like he could create a self-help prose book. As the author of several short stories and the upcoming novel “Fells Hollow,” Abbiati had his own struggles with writing prose until it all came together for him by combining suggestions from veteran writers who use a more natural approach to writing with formal theories developed by English professors and narratologists.
“I would have paid $10,000 for this book eight years ago,” he said. “It covers the one piece of the puzzle that, until now, every writer had to figure out for themselves. It’s the piece you had to learn subconsciously. For some people, that kind of learning comes intuitively, but there are others who will never succeed at writing because they can’t absorb the rules through osmosis.”
Abbiati developed a theory that teaches authors how to use NORTAVs to construct the three types of prose used in all writing: narration, narrated character experience, and direct character experience. The theory lays out how to design unlimited writing styles and create patterns for using them. It took Abbiati a year to write the book, which he published through his own company and sells through all major retailers.
For examples of successful prose, Abbiati turned to a host of independent authors who allowed him to deconstruct their writing to illustrate properly constructed prose.
“I feel very honored to have excerpts from my book, ‘Curse of Kali,’ analyzed in minute detail in this great instructional book,” said author Guido Henkel. “It’s a bit intimidating, but at the same time, it is very rewarding.”
Components Make Up the Whole</strong>
At SAIC, Abbiati designs data models for different federal government computer systems, enabling various agencies to exchange information.
“Think of it in terms of every system speaking a different foreign language,” he said. “At the center of the systems is a hub, which speaks English. Once each system learns to speak English, it can talk to any one of the other systems by using the hub as a mediator. That saves a tremendous amount of time and money.
“It’s highly related to what I did in writing the book. It’s about how to break things down into components that come together to work as a whole. In prose, you break the story down into prose types and beats, and those types and beats can combine in various ways to accomplish particular goals. It’s not that much different from what I do at SAIC.”
<strong>Science Applies to the Arts</strong>
Between his work at SAIC, writing two books, earning two degrees in English and creative writing, and raising a family, it’s been a hectic time for Abbiati. But he remains driven and dynamic at work, according to his supervisor, Bob Fye.
“Jim is a true renaissance man, combining art and science into higher forms of expression,” Fye said. “His information engineering know-how and keen analytical mind has enabled him to isolate, identify, and describe the structural patterns present in great prose. His work is both insightful and ground-breaking. After reading his book, I find myself applying his analytical thinking to both my reading and writing, and enjoying both more.”
Abbiati added, “You can use science to reinvent how we understand the art of writing. It worked for me, and I want it to work for others. My hope is that people can learn from what I’ve done and become better writers.”