Home > Longer Fiction > Getting a grip on structure

Getting a grip on structure

January 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
  • Tweet
  • Sharebar
  • Tweet

This week, I have mostly been reading about story structure. It seems I’ve changed my mind again. Having concluded that I would join Craig and  try writing without a plan, as an attempt at keeping things fresh, I stalled almost immediately. It seems that the fear of the unknown froze me to the spot. I confess, I am someone who likes to plan, so was aware that it would be a challenge. But, you never know ’til you try. I guess writing can be scary enough as it is, without the fear of not knowing where you’re going.

So, one failed experiment later, I am in slightly more comfortable territory, and am looking at ways to plan out my novel. One site I have found especially useful (I have pretty much decided to base my plan on the advice there) is Larry Brooks storyfix.com, and especially his ten part story structure series. What I now want to do, is get an outline of each of the four boxes he describes and what happens within them in my story.

Now, to be clear, none of what Larry says here is rocket science. Nor is it even new or unfamiliar. This structure is recognisable in most novels I’ve read and certainly in any good film I’ve seen (they are shorter, and so it’s much easier to see the structure). But having it all written down and elaborated on by someone who knows is really useful, and I’m sure it’s going to save me a good deal of head scratching.

Can you plan too much?

Yes. I really believe you can. And spoil the enjoyment of writing your story in the process. How much is too much? Ah, now there I cannot help. I have a strong feeling this will be down to the individual. My rule of thumb at the moment is to pay attention, and if it feels right to write, or if I know that any more planning is just procrastination, then I’m done.

Another couple of points I’m keeping in mind, just to keep things loose are:

Keep the details sparse

I think I’ll keep a separate document for working things out. This is because I tend to think my way through problems best by writing through them. This tends to create a lot of disorganised detail about various parts of the story, which is great, but not something I want cluttering up my outline, and probably something I don’t want to look at too often once the ideas have solidified.

Instead I will keep my outline clean by giving each major scene or part of the story a title, just to remind me what goes in it. I probably won’t go as far as naming every single scene, but the important ones will certainly get this treatment. Filling in the gaps can be done (to a certain, as yet undetermined extent) later.

Feel free to change it

The problem with writing down a plan (and probably a big reason for so called “organic” writers hating them), is that it makes things feel permanent. This does not have to be the case of course. I will keep my plan open at all times when writing so that I can change it on the fly should I think of another scene that can go in. I will also plan regular reviews if my plan so that I can change it in light of something I have written, and to check that I still like where it’s going.

So that’s the plan for the plan. I will of course, let you know how I get on. In the mean time I’d love to know your thoughts on planning and what methods you use. Please use the comments section below.