Embracing Structure

Blue Light over Blue Water

Every novel has structure. Doesn’t matter if you want it to or not, it’s there. Building a novel without structure is very close to impossible (Will Self seems to have managed it once or twice, but he’s Will Self). You have two choices when it comes to structuring your story, either you decide what it is, or you discover what it is.

I used to reject the idea of planning it. My first novel was written without a plan at all, and it’s decent, but I mostly rewrote it once I finished it. I took the entire thing and changed the perspective on a bunch of chapters, removed whole sections, added new ones. It was a massive overhaul.

The sequel, Resource Economies was a tiny bit more structured, but not much. At least I had many of the elements of the series created, I knew for example that the viewpoint would be third person and that I would be using a limited number of viewpoint characters that would get their own chapters, and that to achieve that I would make the major viewpoint characters each get a full chapter right off the bat. I still have a lot of edits I need to do to make the structure work though because I didn’t plot it out very well. Just an overview.

Now, for A Long Walk, it didn’t hurt the story, I knew the story. For Resource Economies it did hurt the narrative, and I have things I have to fix now.

I plotted An Accusation a lot more. Now, I did discover a flaw in my plot about halfway through the book and had to adjust. It was a matter of characters acting out of character to make the original plot work, so it needed to be corrected because the characters behaving the way they should is too important to discard. It took a bunch of effort. I wrote myself into a corner Roseanne final season style. I figured out a way to fix it without it having been a dream or a story written by the MC (how do you make a character lose all of his money? Drugs. It was entirely in keeping with the established storyline too, since a lot of the story is in fact about addiction). So, plotting didn’t work against me, and in fact getting back on track made the story richer and more in-depth.

Right now I have plots for Jenny Dark books 1 and 2. The plots are written out in terms of chapters and scenes, as well as around how much space each one should take up. They are divided into acts.

All told writing the plot outline for book 1 took me a couple of days. It has been adjusted a couple of times during writing because it’s okay to adjust when you have a new idea, but overall it’s what I originally came up with.

The plot for book 2 took me fifteen minutes. Not really, but that’s how long I spent writing the outline. I have had the idea for months, and it’s been rolling around in my brain for all that time. The actual writing was quick.

Here’s the thing, I’m writing book 2 for NaNoWriMo. It’s my project. I’m not going to be finished book 1. I will be a long way in, but not quite at the end. If I didn’t have these outline I couldn’t do that, but I know where book 1 ends, and I know how it influences book 2. Making them connect isn’t hard, and I have enough written to make it work. By the time I do book 2 for NaNoWriMo, I will be a couple of chapters shy of finishing book 1, and I know exactly what’s in those chapters. It’s a matter of adding the prose.

So, that’s why I’m a plotter now, why I’ve gone from total freeform to a reasonably detailed structure and outline. If you are a pantser right now, try it. It might not work for you, but it might. It did for me.

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