June 19, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About STRUCTURE

No, no, no--I said STRUCTURE, not A structure.
Today, in our writing group, we talked about the idea of STRUCTURE in writing YA novels (or any fiction, for that matter). I've obsessing over it a bit because I'm working on a new project, so it was interesting to me to hear about what other writers do. Some are outliners (granted, I don't actually know that many people who are fully committed to the preliminary outline). Some write totally freeform and then go back and impose structure. What do YOU do, gentle readers? I want to know.

The way people conceive of structure, too--that's different from writer to writer. Avoiding formula is, of course, a concern, but just coming up with a plot that actually WORKS is the primary concern for most of us, I think. We can finesse the fiddly bits later, once we've written the first draft and have something to fiddle with. (Advice I often dish out, but find much harder to follow myself.)

The truth is, there are so many possibilities out there for structures that work. So many variations on those structures. And so many different ways of writing about those different structures and characterizing them on paper, from Beat Sheets to outlines to (my personal favorite) flow charts. I think my default way of thinking about structure is Things Get Crazier and Crazier, and then The Big Crazy Happens, and then Character Resolves the Crazy. In other words, I'm pretty Aristotelian that way. Truthfully, though, I think it's because I can't keep anything more complicated in my head while I'm first-drafting. It's all I can do to just come up with scenes that more or less fit that structure, let alone get all fancy and break it down further. Perhaps it would be different if my sole occupation were writing novels, but sadly for my novels, my brain is crammed full of other crap constantly threatening to make the good stuff leak out of my ears.

How do you deal with it? Structure, I mean, not brain leakage? Inquiring minds want to know...


tanita✿davis said...

I honestly don't think about "novel structure" when I write, with the exception of the Rule of Three - a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. (This really does sound better as Omnes Trium Perfectum, does it not?) I don't even honestly think that -- but I tend to hear music in thirds, I tend to, when I use an Oxford comma, use it to tie together three words or concepts, and I tend to use three...landmarks if I'm trying to verbally tell a joke or give directions or something. I am just geared to threes.

That being said, I never do plot trees and only once in awhile do narrative arc mapping that looks like ginormous Venn diagrams - I'm just not that able to stick to one "rule" for structure... because I'm just not that (cough) structured... Fortunately, others of us are, so here's Stacy Whitman on Worldbuilding.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Oh, I liked that post--thanks. Stacy is right: it's definitely key to start off with a situation readers can relate to. Then, before your readers even know it, you've started sneaking in those world-building details. :)

I'm constantly struggling with the fact that I'm not a very structured person, when it comes down to it. I love the IDEA of structure and organization, but when I actually sit down to write... I think for me, it's like other issues of craft: I want to know them and absorb them so they're just kind of there in my subconscious when I sit down to write, rather than consciously applying them.