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Write On, Wednesday: Dealing with Structure

By Leslie Lindsay

 (image retrieved from myhsj.org)

I have my novel-in-process right here with me.  Yes, its in electronic form on my handy-dandy lap-top and in binder form sitting on the table next to me.  I have another binder full of hand-outs  hints, tips, ideas, inspiration from from time at the Write by the Lake writer’s retreat back in June. 

I don’t want to do anything about it.  Nope.  Nada.  No way.  “It’s hard!” I whine.  (Well, if it were easy, everyone would write a book).  But I know I need to.  Here’s what needs to happen:  I need to take all of my prose and turn into something a little more mangable.  I thought I was a person who could write without an outline…I preferred it that way.  Hey–if I knew every twist and turn ahead of time, what’s the point in writing?  For me, writing is a discovery process.  It’s about being in the moment and seeing where my fingers take me.  It’s pretty darn fun. 

But back to structure.  I started out with a scene (a good place to begin).  A darn good scene that gets everyone wondering what is going on (at least according to my critique group).  And then I go on…and each chapter is told in 1st person POV by two different characters: Annie and Steve.  I thought that was my structure.  Alas, I am challenged to think more about my current plan.  It has to do with the timing of significant events in the book.  Spring, Fall…you  get the idea.  Sometimes, I’ll have an event that happens in the fall and then next thing, I am talking about the dry grass in the summer time. 

It’s hard because I have been working on this novel for about 2 years now…so in my “real life,” seasons change.  But not necessarily in my book.  You see where this is going…I have some major work to do. 

And I don’t want to do it. 

But I have a feeling that once I get started, I won’t want to stop.  I will get into “the zone.” 

Here are some tips from my retreat:

  • Structure = Substance
  • Who cares about the 3-act plot…the 4-act structure is the way to go!
  • What are your story’s major/most important events?
  • What is the point-of-no-return complication/decision for the protagonist?
  • Pivotal complications (reversals and victories for your character)?
  • Turning point scenes (pacing is key here).  These can be internal (emotional) or external (plot) to the character
  • Big mid-point scene–completely changes direction of the story
  • Black moment and/or major setback (protagonist’s final test of character)
  • Climax and resolution

Often times, all of this is called your Plot Arc.  (I know, all of these fancy-pants terms!)

Okay, and sense this retreat was all about *bestsellers* and their turning points, I might as well recite what I learned in that regard: 

  • Turning points change everything and take your book to the next level/new direction
  • They keep the reader surprised and off-balance (turning pages)
  • They will still make sense in the scope of the book
  • They will also keep your characters on their toes (yes, they do have a life of their own)
  • Powerful, crucial scenes–use them to your story’s advantage! 

Okay–I think I am ready.  Write on, Wednesday!

For more tips, ideas, inspiration on writing-related things, see The How to Write Shop http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/ This is a FREE site, despite moniker.


    • Hi Terri–Yes, I think you will like this site. I found it *very* helpful…and will definitely look at it more closely when I get to the query letter writing phase.

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