Structure

I’ve been writing on and off for close to eight years.

Does it sound like a long time to you?

It does to me. But, really, it hasn’t been.

In that time I’ve written about ten or so shorts, won a few awards for some, had a few published, wrote for an award-winning magazine for some time. I’ve also drafted two novels, of which I’m editing one right now.

Is it an accomplishment? Depends how you look at it. Some days, I think, wow, I did all that, while having three babies, and never ever having more than a few hours a week to write, and taking a whole year of hiatus more than once. But other days, I think: eight years! Really! That’s it???

As you can most likely tell from my recent post I’ve been in the second place lately more than the first.

One of the difficulties I’m having is getting a grip on structure. I thought I had a tight handle on it: I have my three acts firm in hand. My set-up, my catalyst, my in-limbo time when we wait for the MC to make her decision to act, launching her into act two where we follow her journey, through her false high at midpoint, and into the resolution of act three.

My problem now lies in scene structure, and in making sure each element is in place within each scene.

This morning I’ve drafted a checklist for my self:

  1. Scene setting
  2. Scene goal stated
  3. Scene structure (beginning, middle, end)
  4. Is it clear how I want my character to appear in this scene and does the dialogue, action, monologue reflect this (ie. Weak, strong, frustrated, alert)
  5. Emotional arc
  6. Delivery of info in proper order
  7. Conflict and stakes apparent
  8. Check for order of stimulus : response (something that I get backwards often–weird!!!!)
  9. Resolution and new situation at end of scene (unless is moving into scene sequel)
I’ll print it out once it’s complete and go through each scene making sure that I can tick off each of these items.
How about you: How do you handle structure of your WIP? 
Is there anything you would add to this list?
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11 thoughts on “Structure

  1. You’ve accomplished far more than I. I like your checklist. I’m reminded of Sandra Scofield’s THe Scene Book, which is excellent. She’s says: “An alternative way to think of the scene structure is this: There is a situation at the beginning, a line of action, and then there is a new situation at the end.” It’s simple advice, but gets to heart of the matter. It sounds like you have scenes down, but if you need inspiration or just a different way of thinking about scene, I recommend Scofield’s book. Good luck.

    1. What an interesting book! I haven’t heard of that one before!

      Someone in my group is reading Story Engineering and loves it. Now, I’ll have to decide between the two! lol.

      Thanks for the quote! It’s great 🙂

  2. Wow, what an interesting glimpse into your writing process! It’s so methodic and organized. I’m kind of jealous. When your first draft is done, so much will already be in place. I usually fly by the seat of my pants in the first write, then go back and chop and add and wrangle ’til the story has all the elements you described.

    >>>In that time I’ve written about ten or so shorts, won a few awards for some, had a few published, wrote for an award-winning magazine for some time. I’ve also drafted two novels, of which I’m editing one right now.

    Is it an accomplishment?<<<

    Yes, in every way that matters! I relate to your questions and inner nagging, though. Maybe every writer would. As soon as the computer logs down, the insecurity (for me) starts. Do I write enough? Is it good enough? Will I _ever_ write enough? Will it ever be _good enough_? Is my current W.I.P. a waste of time? Should I be working on something else? And so on and so on and so on!

    The only effective way I've found to deal with my nasty inner editor is to write every day (or as close to as possible). The more regularly I write (even if it's for short sessions), the more I'm able to make the negative voices in my head shut up. The more I'm able to just feel the fun and joy of the story telling process. I'm doing the work–you're doing the work!–that's all accomplishment really is.

    I hope you had a good (and productive!) writing time today.

    1. Hehe, Ev! My first draft was done…oh I don’t know, some years ago!! This must be like draft 20 or something! (it’s my first ever novel that I’ve gone back to and essentially re-wrote–don’t ask me why???)

      The reason I’ve had to get organized like this is to stop the endless cycle of editing from beginnig to end a million times. I have solid goals to work with now, and I actually feel like I’m striving for a finished product! It’s quite a feeling that, even though I’m a long way off.

      Thanks for your comment–I really appreciate it! Writing as often as possible does seem to be the cure, but, with the risk of sounding whiny, it’s so difficlut with a young family (as you know!). That said, this checklist has helped, and while I didn’t get to write that day, my writing has been productive since then! I hope your is too! 🙂 🙂

  3. Hi, I generally rely on gut instinct. If something feels right, it probably is okay….if it feels wrong, there’s probably a fundamental problem somewhere. Congratulations on all your writing over the past eight years, and here’s to further successes.

  4. Wow, all my hats off to you Jennifer! Being a mom to three children is hard enough so to have accomplished all that(and winning awards too! Kudos), is certainly more than something, trust me. 🙂
    Feeling slightly overwhelmed at the moment, for I’ve just started work on my novel. I’m an obsessive plotter so I’m still, er, plotting. I’m taking notes from you as we speak though: scene structures, settings, emotional arcs, phewww!! That’s a lot to take in, LOL! 😉

    Tell me though, do you work multiple scenes per chapter? Or is every scene a separate chapter on its own? I’m still deciding how to structure mine…

    1. Thanks, Nisha!

      First novel jitters? Then you’re way ahead of the game, aware of the challenge it is. Hope that doesn’t sound scary cause it’s not meant to be! When I wrote my first novel, it was the first thing I write and I was completely naive as to how much work, dedication, time, etc it would need. So good for you!

      Ok, I’m a panster, so a lot is done intuitively for me. I only plot and outline and pull my hair out after the first draft is done 🙂 I do work multiple scenes per chapter–but not always. Each chapter is unique and needs to fill it’s own requirements. Too much balance leaves a reader out of sorts–we naturally need variety.

      I have chapters that are one tiny scene of one single pages, and others than carry multiple scenes. I do my best to have chapter one as one scene, but that’s just personal preference and not always possible or the best option for lots of stories. Most of the time a chapter ends with one conflict resolved and a new one beginning, but not always, sometimes the resolution will continue in a scene sequel. I have multiple povs in this wip, so I have occasional scenes of more than one pov per chapter at times as well. If The event in the minor pov impacts the main pov directly then I’ll have them in one chapter. No set rules, I know you’re an avid reader so it’ll come to you.
      I have no idea if any of this is helpful or not. Good luck, Nisha, and I know you’ll do great!

      1. Thank you! Yes it does help, I’m always curious to see how other writers work on their books. I’ve already started writing and so far I’m also trying to keep one scene per chapter. It might change though 😉
        Thank you for your help Jennifer, and good luck with the final edits! 🙂

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