Good morning. I recently sent off a short story to a very brilliant writer friend of mine. I was very excited as I was going to submit that story to a magazine. Unfortunately, she wrote back that the story had no structure. It wasn't what I expected to hear. I expected to hear that perhaps my humor wasn't conveyed the right way, the adverbs needed to be culled, the POV was a little 'iffy' in chapter three. But structure? Who knew.
We all have had it drummed into our heads since we were little kids -- a story has a beginning, middle, and end. Pretty much all you need to know when you're nine. As we progress through school, we learn about dangling modifiers, adjectives, clauses, punctuation, etc. We get the difference between fiction, non-fiction and essays by the time we graduate high school. In college we "learn the rules" of how to write and hope we do not get a D. There's a formula for writing well no matter what you do in life. From resumes, law contracts, complaints to HR or customer services, doctor charts and reports, or just a simple thank you note -- there's a way to write it correctly. Beginning, middle, end. You know what I'm talking about.
To get back to my short story. Seems it was all middle. My friend likened it to a private conversation with no quotation marks so you never knew who was speaking. It had nothing to stand up to, nothing to push back against. No beginning, no end.
Hmm. I thought about. I thought about it some more. I reread the story. *face palm* She was right.
Flash forward to now. I'm finally at the end of my latest WiP. I am about to finish the first/tenth draft (I edit as I go) and send it off to my beta readers. (Once that comes back, I adjust and send to my critters.) I was thinking (as I was writing) "Gee, this book is taking an awfully long time to finish, but I still have so much left to say." And I did. I had five threads that needed to be tied up. So why weren't they?
Please, bear with me as I try and explain.
As we all know, different genres have different formulas. In cozy mysteries, the dead body is usually off stage. In romance, the hero and heroine must meet within the first five pages. In science fiction it's all in the world building. We also know, that in the back of any writing endeavor, we have beginning, middle, and end. That small, simple fact is encoded into our DNA.
In any kind of fiction writing there is a definite formula. So many climactic scenes per act. The longer the word count, the more climaxes you could fit in. With three acts, you have the minimum of three dramatic climaxes with all the lose ends being tied up at the close of the book. Within each act there could be one or two other threads (sub-plots) running as well with their own drama. Within each act the tension must rise until the final culmination or climax where everything is resolved. (Including all sub-plots, unless you're leaving room to write a sequel.)
Okay, so you with me so far. (If not, Anne R. Allen had as her guest yesterday, Paul Fahey, a very distinct short form writer. However, he also has the exact diagram of what I tried to explain above. If you haven't read the post yet, you should. Step 4.)
In thinking on the structure of this novel THE CAPTAIN'S COINCIDENCE before I began writing, I presumed it would have a beginning, middle, and end. After reading it through the other day, I think I've written beginning, end, middle. My hero's journey ends smack dab in the middle of the book with this huge daring rescue/sea battle. (Plot spoiler ahead) The villain dies. After that, nothing. No more "big" moments or discoveries. As a matter of fact, this is where I'm tying up my loose ends. However, here's the kicker -- the hero and heroine are apart. And my reason why
-- I short changed the heroine in almost the entire book. However, there's more at stake for her now. So over the course of the last three chapters in trying to give her POV more consideration (as well as tying up those threads) I have a long drawn out waiting game for the heroine -- will he or won't he return to her.
Not the way it's supposed to go. We MEET at the BEGINNING. We WAIT in the MIDDLE (because generally in a romance, something has to keep the hero/heroine apart). BIG stuff (like daring rescues and sea battles) usually happen at the END.
Hmm. What is it with me and middles?
I'm not restructuring the story to fit the formula. I don't think the story would work that way. I don't know what my readers will think. I guess I'll find out. As for the short story I wrote, I know what she means now about it being all middle and I know what I need to do to fix it. (Yes, the obvious, write a beginning and end.)
Tell me -- Do you ever think about structure when writing? Or do you just write and see where it takes you? Do you write beginning, middle, end? Do you ever find the occasion to chuck the formulas?
Anne Gallagher (c) 2014
Do join me next Monday when Bish Denham is here to talk about her new book.