21 January 2017

Writing: Back to Basics – Structure

A right taffle
There’s nothing like getting into a taffle while writing a novel. It’s easy to misstep, I’ll grant, even to take a wrong turn, but a true taffle is something I never thought I’d encounter, because in all the short stories and novels I've published it’s not previously occurred. 

I knew something was amiss, but as with that other type of yarn, pictured, I just kept pulling to free the length until it became impossible to pull any longer. That’s when I went back to release the knot, to be faced with a true WTF taffle.

Of course, other writers reading this blog will be rolling their eyes and muttering less pantsing and more planning. And I agree, which is why these past days I’ve been going back to basics: how best to structure a novel?

I know of novelists who brood over a story for months, then hide away hitting 12-14 hour days as they write the entire novel in note form. They sort out the outstanding niggles, then do the research, then calmly start writing the novel with only the barest nod to their previously written skeleton.

I know of novelists who write the plot and the dialogue in omniscient-cum-authorial viewpoint, leave it to fester, then go back in to choose dedicated viewpoints, add in description and tone, and the 101 other technical details that make up a fully-functioning novel, before going through it again with an eye to bolstering an identified theme.

And there’ll be a score or more other systems all serving their authors well. How it is worked matters little. It’s how it works for the individual author – in this case me – that matters. And my chosen method of knowing my destination and driving within the length of my headlights has, on this occasion, failed me.

At its most basic, a story is fuelled by conflict, and the momentum of that conflict can be separated into a structure of five major elements:
  • inciting incident
  • complication
  • crisis
  • climax
  • resolution
This basic structure alone may serve a short story, but for a novel-length project the structure will need interlacing by clones of itself, several clones, with individual elements not necessarily in that order. Each sub-plot will be carried on multiple clones of this basic structure, echoing or reflecting facets of the lead character’s or characters’ joys and woes, all deftly meshing into the main structure as well as into each other.

And this is my taffle. So I am following the cable of my multi-strand novel back to each of its structural elements to discover which has, or have, a mismatched clone that’s not reflecting in the direction it should. Wish me luck.

Next time I may opt for more planning and less pantsing. Once bitten, and all that.

[image courtesy of Vickisdesigns, Pixabay.com]


  1. You're absolutely right, Linda: creating as a pantster is a risky business. I've abandoned at least 3 novels that failed to move in the direction I initially intended. But, for me, plotting is a definite barrier to creation: it squeezes the joy of making out of the story for me. I enjoy both the surprise of an altered route and the challenge of solving an unexpected change of direction. But it does mean that there are times when the work has to be let go, because it just isn't working. And that's a definite disadvantage when writing a themed series of novels, of course.
    Good luck with your re-structuring. I'm sure with your mix of technical skills and imagination you'll provide your readers with the usual well-told story populated by real people we can empathise with. Go for it!

    1. Ho ho... If you could see my office door! Colour-coded snippets of three storylines. It's like undoing a dot-to-dot picture to discover when the camel should have become a horse. LOL!

      And you are correct about it not mattering so much until writing a series - as *you* now are, too. Beware the Ides...

    2. Ah, the challenges we set ourselves! But it gets those creative juices flowing, eh?