Join my newsletter for info on upcoming books, classes, appearances, and discounts.Join Now!

Structural integrity

I just finished Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks, and I think it’s the book I’ve been looking for all along. We’ve discussed “pantsing” vs. “plotting” here several times before, but the best thing about Larry’s book is that it gives you a structure to hang your work on, regardless of how you write.

There are other books out there that discuss structure, but I’ve bought several, and so far SSD is the first one to break structure down into easy-to-understand parts.

In my own book, Slow Burn, I had a beginning premise and a vague idea of where I was going with it, but nothing concrete. Every day it was a struggle to decide what came next.

Now enter story structure. I’ve used the metaphor of a cross-country journey to describe my writing process. It works even better with an understanding of structure. If you think of each milestone (opening hook, plot/twist/turning point 1, p/t/t point 2, etc.) as a waypoint on the route, you still leave a lot of room for creative endeavor, and change.

With a better understanding of each section of the book, I can decide if the ride for my characters between waypoints should be smooth, bumpy, uphill, a car chase, or what. If I understand what section of the book I’m in while writing, it’s easier to determine what the purpose of each scene should be, and the types of actions my character should take.

Structure is not sexy, but it’s very freeing. Think of building a house. Once you know that it won’t collapse because you’ve created a sound design based on engineering principles, you’re free to make it look like a spaceship, treehouse, giant shoe, or tract home.

I know there are authors out there who don’t do this intentionally, but chances are if their books are on a shelf somewhere, they do it instinctively.

After reading SSD, I went back and looked at Slow Burn again. It turns out that I had most of the important milestones, and they were even largely in the correct spot. But it would have been so much easier to create that story with an intrinsic sense of the purpose of each section of the book.

My awesome CP has mentioned these concepts to me before, and I balked. Totally. Basically, because I didn’t understand the purpose of the different milestones or sections of a story. You may have heard the phrase, “The confused mind says ‘no'”. That was me.

Now, my left-brain is happy about the logic of structure, and my right-brain has been popping out scene ideas all afternoon. Go figure.

0 Comments

  1. Reply

    You sold me. I’m going to go download it. I do believe your right. I just finished reading Godric by Frederick Buechner. He was nominated for a Pulitzer based on these 178 pages.

    If I would take a small box of crayolas plus a couple of hours and re-read coloring each thread, turning point, etc… the internal structure of this little novel would be made visible. It is amazing the two line threads that holds this book together for the reader. Two lines each. That’s it. They sound like a bell at the appropriate time. Amazing.

    • Reply

      Wow. I love that.

      In my own genre, Suzanne Brockmann does that. She weaves so many character arcs and story lines within and across books, I don’t know how she fits them all together so well. For the reader it’s just like life. All of our friends’ and family members’ story lines interweave and it all works, but doing that in a book takes amazing skill in my mind.

  2. Christine

    Reply

    So is this a book or a download cause now I want one! Suzanne Brockmann is amazing. Reading her book right now and am in AWE of her ability to weave so many elements together.

    Baby steps–every book we write is a learning experience.

    • Reply

      It’s an e-book, but he has a two-for-one deal until 3/15, so it’s a good time to buy. If you’ve followed his blog, the writing style is very similar and friendly. I found it much easier to understand than the course we’re signed up for right now.

  3. Reply

    Gwen. Thank you for introducing me to Larry Brooks.

    Clearly, at least for me, Mr. Brooks comes closer to teaching what has forever been considered virtually unteachable –Story Craft.

    Many try but most fail because story craft is skeletal. Like my skeleton it ain’t pretty but I sure do need one. Else, I’m a blob and not in motion. Same goes for a story. I realize my orthopedic guy thinks skeletal is not only pretty but also profitable…. but I;m just saying.

    This from Mr. Brooks latest blog entry at http://storyfix.com/

    A scene is a unit of seamless dramatic narrative.
    1.Think of a scene as a one-act play. 

    (—-When I do, I realize a scene is a little story with a beginning middle and end. Might even have its own arc. It moves me the reader from here to there. Might even make me want to know what happens next.—)

    2.If the narrative changes point of view, from one character’s to another’s, that’s always a new scene.

    3.If your narrative changes time or location, that’s a new scene, too.

    I’m thinking those four points alone, when followed, would redeem tons of wandering story elements and refashion them into what the writer is hoping for, a living story.

    Clearly, a new story guru has come to town. This one seems to know how to teach the basics.

  4. Reply

    You’re welcome–I think he’s great!

    Good points. I especially like #1, and your insights on it. One of the ways I approach a scene (sometimes before i write it, sometimes as a check afterwards) is I do a mini-GMC on the scene.

    What’s the goal of the scene (usually for the POV character), why does he want it, and what’s standing in his way of getting it?

    If we’re all learning more, then we’re headed in the right direction! Good luck.

  5. Reply

    Gwen aka Larry Brooks help desk, Scrivener Coach, Writer in Residence.

    Just downloaded his “Structure.” Does “Character” just show up? Or, is there something else to click somewhere else?

    • Reply

      LOL, love those titles! He’ll send you an email with the other file, sometime after he gets the info from ClickBank. I had the same thought. Hope you like the books!

  6. Reply

    You really should bill those guys. 🙂 You think I dig through the help file on Scrivener. Nope.. Wonder where I look first?

    Tell ya one thing. Sure would like to sell books the e-book way. But, on the buy side???? Not sure I want to park the ol iBook on my stomach while I stretch out in bed and read. Not sure my bride would be thrilled with that either. 🙂

    My print guy is the next stop.

  7. Pingback: Abridged angst « The Edited Life

  8. Reply

    I’m reading Brooks’ SSD, and it’s clicking into place in my mind. Wish I had found it earlier. Now I’m re-looking my novel-in-progress to fill in the blanks.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: