Welcome to part 5 in my How-To blog series!
Today we are addressing story structure. It’s not as boring as it sounds, I swear!
But before we delve, I have to ask you, dear writers:
Why are you writing this book? I mean, what are you seeking? What do you hope to get out of writing a novel? A publishing deal? Or the simple satisfaction of knowing that you can write?
It’s important to know because the answers to these questions may determine your story’s overall structure.
One of my favorite quotes on how-to build your story’s structure goes like this:
“What does Beaker mean,” you ask?
Well, basically, it means that the way a writer chooses to build their plot is TOTALLY up to the writer unless said writer is planning on being published through a major publishing house. Because they have requirements.
Let’s jump right in
Structure. It’s one of those dirty words that makes you think you have to follow a certain guideline. It’s one of those things that I always tried to avoid thinking about in the beginning of my writing endeavors. But, I have discovered that there is a method to this madness of novel-creation.
See, there are two types of writers: Planners and Pantsters. I am a Panster–I write by the seat of my pants, I take no prisoners, I do what I want when I want. I use as many run-on sentences and internal monologs as I want, and I end the book when I feel like it.
And then I spend a billion hours editing, fine-tuning, removing all the cutsey-schmootsty scenes that I was SO sure were SO necessary but turns out there weren’t. But, I am an over-writer. An Over-doer. That is my process. That is why it takes me a year to write a novel.
So, yeah, planning ahead saves major time in the post-writing stages. And knowing what you want to do with your manuscript will help save time also. If it’s for you and a few family members or friends to read, don’t worry about how the storyline builds, but if you’re like me, and you want the world to read your books, then you have to think about how you put your masterpiece together.
A strong structure should build in momentum. Whether you write romance or thrillers, or sci-fi, there should be a rhythm to your story that makes it tough for the reader to put down.
Your plot should open from page one. Page one, paragraph one, sentence one: this is your introduction to the reader. This is your, “Hey, how are you?” This line determines whether or not a reader will finish the first chapter.
What makes them keep reading is not always the quality of the writing. (Helloo, Fifty Shades! Yeah, I read it. Several times. And not because it was so well-written, but because I was shocked. Shocked! And that alone, kept me reading) What keeps a reader engaged is the way you build your momentum, aka, your structure.
What structure works the best?
To answer this question, I have to call upon my own experiences with trying to land that coveted literary agent. I never did get one (because I gave up when I got my first publishing deal), but the advice I got from them was invaluable.
I learned that:
Every good story needs more than one plot. Your main plot, and at least one subplot.
Your main plot should be open by the end of chapter three.
Your story should have a false-happy ending by 50%.
A strong plot-twist around the 75% mark.
And, (for those writing category romance, which ensures a HEA, this is a must) another twist at the 85-90% mark.
Then, the last 10% of the story, you tie-up those loose ends.
That is just from Literary Agents who were nice enough to take the time to answer my query letters when I was out on submission for my first novel, Between Octobers, which is not category romance, but Women’s Fiction.
Here’s a tip: When ANYONE in the publishing industry wants to pass you some advice, TAKE IT. Even if you don’t agree with it, even if it hurts your feelings. Because being able to take criticism (I smell a future post coming on!) is a must if you plan on having your work read.
There are, however, many, many ways to “properly structure” a story. It depends heavily on the genre of your manuscript and on the publishers preferences–which they swear are proven story structures that keep readers reading.
In fact, there are too many to list. I use the 3-act plot structure, along with multiple plot scenario in my Sci-Fi/Thriller trilogy. (Click the link to get a free copy!) I also try to follow the notes given to me by the experts.
Below, I am posting a series of links that will help any writer, no matter the genre, to craft their story structure in a way that maximizes your books potential.
4 Story-Structures that Dominate Novels
10 Simple Keys to Effective Plot Structure
HayHouse Manuscript Submission Guidelines
A Writers Cheat-Sheet to Plot and Structure
Creating a Visual Chart to Structure Your Novel
Thanks for reading!
See you next week, when we discuss Part 6: How-To Take The Gift of Criticism