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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.

Writ large

I've written in the past about wanting to make my story bigger. Not in word count, per se, but in feeling. The complexity of the story and characters have to be large enough–interesting enough–to carry the novel through 300+ pages.

Thanks to my most wonderful critique partner, I now have some ideas for how to make it happen for Slow Burn. I'm not tearing into it yet, I have lots of brainstorming to do, but I'm excited about the possibilities. My friend Martha is facing a similar challenge.

Good luck to both of us! 😉

I'm still interested in ensuring that the structure of the story works, and working on pre-planning for my future MSs. To that end, I broke down and bought Larry Brooks' e-book, Story Structure Demystified. While I agree with regular commenter Curtis that $14.95 is a bit high for an e-book, Larry's offering a twofer deal until March 15th, so I went for it.

I'm a regular follower of his blog, and I find his explanations both well-written and engaging. I'm expecting the book to be more of the same.

Now, I'm off to bigger things…

Plotting along

I've mentioned before that I lean toward the pantser end of the scale, but with each subsequent book, I do more pre-planning. I know I need a pretty good idea of my destination and way points, or I'll get completely lost, circle the midwest five times, and end up in Mexico if I'm not careful.

This week I started thinking about my next book, Blind Fury. It's not the one I thought I would work on next–neither Diego's story, nor the one I've been hinting at in my recent squirrels. For some reason, I'm not ready for either of those yet, but this next one kind of grabbed me.

I spent the morning attempting to nail down my Inciting Incident, 1st Plot/Turning Point, Middle Transition, 2nd Plot/Turning Point, and Climax. Based on experience, I know I at least need a loose idea of what will happen in each of those sections, who the villain is, what the GMC is for every major character, and what my character arcs are.

Gosh, the more I write, the more of a plotter I become.

Larry Brooks over at had a great post on Tuesday about how to pre-structure your story using “beats” for each scene and the four-part structure that he advocates in his books and on his blog. I'm going to take a stab at doing this in advance for a change.

I'm calling it “plotting by the seat of my pants”.

Put it in perspective

I was commenting on Larry Brooks' upcoming deconstruction of Avatar over at, when I realized something about characterization: it's all about perspective.

Yeah, I know this is nothing new, but for some reason it clicked. You see, I didn't expect to like Avatar. I'd heard that there was no plot, just pretty special effects. Well, I went anyway, and really, really liked it. And because I'd heard there was no plot, I found myself analyzing it on the way home.

I believe the naysayers were wrong. There was a pretty strong plot, complete with character GMC, turning points, black moment, climax, everything.

Okay, that's another post, or just check out this week…

Back to perspectives. I made a comment that I had been analyzing the plot, “much to my husband's dismay”. And then it made me think about how he points out engineering stuff all the time. Like why a certain structure works, or why a ship in space wouldn't “fall” after it's been blown up, etc… And I tend to turn over plastic containers so I can see if they're injection blow molded or extrusion blow molded. If you want I can show you the ejection pin mark on your toothbrush, too. 😉

Yes, I taught the plastics lab during grad school.

So, what's my point? It's that our backgrounds and interests color how we look at the world, and if our characters are rich they'll be the same way. The things they'll notice about the world around them are determined by their background, personality, and experiences.

Not that I've necessarily done this with my MCs yet. Give me a break, I just thought of it!

So, how do you find opportunities to show your character's perspective?