Thursday, July 29, 2010


What do we want in structure - do we want elegance, clarity, and surprise perhaps? I am thinking about structure and how my writerly mind and maybe yours too, whirls around notions of structure, of plot, and of story. 
If you look up plot structure you will find something like this:

Five Basic Elements of Plot Structure

1. Exposition (Beginning)
2. Rising Action - Introduction of the conflict
3. Climax - the high point
4. Falling Action - what it says
5. Denouement - the untangling of the strands of plot

Or you might find any number of ways plot can be structured but they will all include these same points with slightly different names - The Hero's Journey for instance:

Studies of various ways to structure your plot can be helpful and I do look at them and ponder their relevance to my story.
I am thinking, however, in a different way during this revision. It is as if I have decided the sort of house that I am building - the motifs, the rhythm of it - how one might move around in it. It isn't a cozy Agatha Christie cottage in the Dales or a Stoker castle in Austria. No, it is a comfortable family home in North America in a four season climate. It is sturdy but not overly decorative...etc... So that has been chosen. But now, as I build this house, I am considering questions such as 'do I need the stairs to rise from the front of the house or the back. Do I want an open plan or a more closed off traditional style? The house is pretty much built but unlike real houses, I can change things without too much expense incurring. I can decide to start it later or earlier. I can move one bit of action up and slow the pace down by putting a quieter scene in somewhere. I can strengthen the motifs and amp up the conflict. I can see that I've been too kindly to my protagonist and give her more problems to solve.  I can revise for clarity and surprise too. I'm not ready to decorate yet but I will be soon - then I can make sure every word is the right one and that I haven't chosen hackneyed phrases or metaphors. It is damn exciting to be at this stage I can tell you!
I think the main thing I need to remember is that, just like when the man and I were designing this house on paper, I can change my mind. Just because I wrote it one way doesn't mean it has to stay that way. I can decide right now and after carefully checking with my characters to make sure it fits for them change a plot point radically. It doesn't mean I will BUT I CAN.
Yesterday I moved several chapters around and I might need to move them again or toss them and it is essential that I don't get caught up in believing something has to stay the way it was first put down.
What have you discovered in your writing process or your revising one that you need to constantly remind yourself of?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Structure is still a weak spot for me.

Stacy Post said...

Jan! I've had a recent epiphany about one of my novels and it involved...structure! :) Isn't it fun to know that once the first draft is done, there's so much room to play? Enjoy your revisions! I'm looking forward to altering the structure on mine...with a hammer and a saw. Thanks for dropping by the blog!

Clarissa Draper said...

I don't normally have a problem with structure but recently I was doing a timeline of my recent book and realized I tried to fit too much action into a small timeframe. I had to go back and make changes.


Timekeeper said...

It was a great day when I figured out I could move scenes around to make the story better. But I still have to remind myself this can be done, that my prose are on paper not stone.
Good post.

Hart Johnson said...

Funny. I like houses with quirks and surprises--little hidey holes and strangenes... and I like novels like that too... but they are a lot harder to put on the market because you need to find just the right buyer...

I am thinking I need to be more intentional when I look at structure than I have been in the past...

Jan Morrison said...

Diane - I feel your pain. Structure is my most difficult thing which is why I'm trying to spend lots and lots of time contemplating it!
Stacy - tell me your epiphany!!! I love those...
Clarissa - yep, the timeline is the first thing I did after reading my story. The timeline of the novel itself and all the timelines of the characters past...whew. That sheets gets a lot of reading.
John - exactly! It is so crazy - sometimes I need another person to ask me why something is the way it is so I can see how fixed I get!
Tartlette - yes, me too - great rambling houses like in my dreams - oh, I didn't know there was another room back here!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I've discovered that the ebb and flow of tension will be different for every novel, and that some story's arcs will look like a skewed bell curve, but that the arc (and its typical three-act structure) will never let us down.