Posts Tagged ‘structure’

Stories I’d Like to Write: Interlocking Lives

Somewhat related to Tuesday’s post, but another type of story I’d love to try is what I’m calling interlocking lives. This is where the main character is living two lives, without a clear delineation of which is the “real” life, or where there’s a “dream” life that may actually be real.

I feel like I’m not explaining this terribly well. So, uh, let’s say there’s a girl. And she’s a teenager, going through her normal life at high school. But at night, she lives another life, where she’s a elven princess, and it’s the normal, high school life that seems like a dream.

And then, over time, the lives start to bleed into each other, or actions that take place in one life affects things in the other life.

Like the dual timelines, the structure of this idea kind of boggles me. At some point, it seems like one of the lives has to be the “real” one, and that one has to be more important in the end, with the other one being a subplot of some sort. But I don’t know! I’m kind of hoping, when I sit down and plan this sort of story, what I need to do becomes obvious. Or, maybe, as I do more research into this particular type of story structure, everything will all make sense.

This idea has some wish fulfillment tied to it, I think. I think it’s easy to wish that you were more important, or that life was more exciting, or that you’d find true love, or any number of things, and this sort of structure allows you to mix the mundane with the fantastical, or anything really. I tend to fantasy and scifi, of course, but I could see this being used in conjunction with, say, historical romance, where the dream life is somewhere and somewhen else.

And, I mean, why have to choose between urban and high fantasy when you can do them both?

This idea is one that has appealed to me for a long time, but unfortunately, liking an idea doesn’t necessarily come supplied with a story to actually go along with it. Maybe I’ll poke this for a bit and see if I can’t put something together for Nano, and this can be my new thing to try for November this year.

What do you think, squiders? Got any recommendations for books where a character is living in two different times/places/worlds?

Stories I’d Like to Write: Dual Timeline

It’s summer, so time for a blog series, amirite? I am right. Because it’s my blog. So there.

For this year’s series, I thought I’d focus on stories I’d like to write someday. Because writing, like anything else, is a skill, and some things are things that are advanced, that take time and practice before you can pull them off. And I keep a list of things I’d like to try some day. And maybe the day will be soon! Or maybe it will be in five, ten years. But, you know, someday.

One thing that has always really interested me is stories with interlocking timelines. You’ve probably read some of these. I find them a lot in family dramas. There’s a modern timeline, and normally a historical timeline, but they’re interconnected, what’s happening in the past relating to the present, and vice versa.

This seems very complicated to me. I think it’s because pacing has historically been one of the harder parts of writing for me, so the idea of having two stories lining up, echoing each other, feels impossibly hard.

You’ve got to have two stories that match up somehow, same theme, mirrored challenges, something along those lines. And they have to do it with the same cadence, the same beats, so that the two stories make a coherent whole.

I mean, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t have much interest in writing a straight family drama. Maybe one with supernatural influences. Or! Or I could set it in a fantasy world. Oooh. Now that does sound interesting. A “modern” fantasy story interacting with an older one, maybe part of that world’s mythology or something like that. Yes. I like that a lot.

On one hand, it seems like if you can figure out the pacing and mirroring, it does seem like the writing might be a little easier–instead of one 80,000 word story, you’ve got two 40,000 word stories. But I am a little confused about beats in general. Do both storylines have the same level of rise and fall? Does the secondary timeline function on its own or more of a subplot?

Of course, it’s questions like these that make it why this is something to try in the future. Got to figure out the structure of the thing first.

Do you like dual timeline stories, squiders? I suppose you could do more than two, though that does seem like it might get a little unwieldy. Have you seen dual timelines in genres other than family dramas?

The Rule of Three

Threes are important throughout human society, mythology, and literature. There’s something very ancient and instinctual about using threes, and you’ll find them everywhere. Storytelling is no different in this. One of the most common story structures is the three act structure, after all–a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even in school we’re taught that an essay needs three points to support it.

This can be used a ton of different ways–in the language itself, with repeating words or phrases; in plotting, with a certain event happening three different times, or an event building in three steps; and, perhaps my favorite, in characters.

An example of each:

Words:
“Veni, vidi, vici.” (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Plotting:
Very common in fairy tales, such as in Rumpelstiltskin, both when the miller’s daughter weaves for three nights (and Rumpelstiltskin visits each night), and the three nights of name guessing.

Characters:
Again, common in nursery rhymes and fairy tales (The Three Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, etc.), but can be found in a lot of popular culture, including a lot of my favorite stuff. In Harry Potter, you’ve got Harry, Hermione, and Ron. In Star Wars, you’ve got Luke, Leia, and Han. In Star Trek, you have Kirk, Spock, and Bones.

Since characters and character relationships have always been my favorite parts (both reading and writing) of stories, I tend to be most interested in this aspect of the Rule of Three. A story just seems stronger with three characters, doesn’t it? And sidekicks tend to come in three, too. Luna, Ginny, and Neville. Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2-D2. I think this somewhat stems from the idea of the triple deity–a single entity in three parts, with each part representing a certain aspect of the whole.

Anyway, it’s a neat thing to think about. Any examples you can think of that really work for you, Squiders?

Onward to Space Dinosaurs

Well, Squiders, I have finally finished my chainsaw edit of my YA paranormal/dark fantasy novel. It ended up being approximately 90,000 words, which makes it 15,000 words longer than the original draft. Most of the new stuff is related to character arcs and some fleshing out of the main plot, but mostly character arcs.

I’ve got it out to a couple of readers, so we’ll see if it’s better, or just different. I found it really hard to tell. I went back to the edit after Nano, and read through what I had thus far (about 65K at that point), and I honestly couldn’t tell, which is really weird for me. So hopefully my readers can tell me what’s what. I don’t think either of them read the original draft, so it should be interesting to get their opinions.

I also finished the first of my nonfiction books and have that out to a couple of people to read. Feedback thus far has been very positive, so hooray!

Since I’m done with my chainsaw edit (a month and a half after I wanted to be), I can go back to writing my space adventure series (with space dinosaurs!) that I started in November. If you remember, I was trying out a couple of different structural changes from my normal novel-writing process.

I’m pleased to say that I think the changes are for the better–I rather enjoyed my readthrough of what I previously had, and the new outlining process (outlining by beats rather than phase outlining) leaves me lots of room to play around with things without affecting my main plotlines or character arcs.

It’s been a little slow getting back into the flow of writing it, but I am generally optimistic about the whole project. Turns out you can’t go wrong with space dinosaurs.

Been up to anything interesting yourselves, Squiders?

More Structural Thoughts

Another issue I’m running into with my Nano is my structural beats, or acts, or whatever you want to call them.

You see, when I plotted Nano this year I tried a new technique. In the past I have phase outlined, which consists of basically making a bullet point list of what happens in order. This generally works well for me, and is especially useful when I have multiple viewpoint characters that directly affect one another, because it helps me keep track of what’s happening overall and also what’s happening in relation to the other character.

But I find it hard to phase outline an entire novel (it is an excellent technique for short stories and I highly recommend it) if I don’t already have a draft of said novel under my belt. It’s an excellent tool for sharpening things up. But a whole novel is a lot of work to phase outline otherwise.

So, for this book I decided to outline by tentpoles. In story structure terminology, a tentpole or a milestone is a major event, typically that divides your acts if you’re using a 3-Act Structure (or a 4-Act, or I suppose any number of acts). Depending on who you talk to, there can be a variety of numbers of tentpoles, but normally you have one 10-25% through your novel (sometimes called the Inciting Incident) and another one 75%-90% through the denotes the start of the climax. (That one probably has a fancy name too, but I’m blanking on it.)

Aside from those two, I’ve also got a midpoint tentpole, and I’ve got all three set up for both of my main plots.

So, for the first time ever, I’ve gotten somewhere, thought to myself, “Oh, I should hit such and such plot point, that would be fun,” and then had to back up and realize that it’s not time for that yet.

So it should be interesting, at the end of this draft, to see if my story is more sound structurally because I had my tentpoles in places before I stuck them in during editing.

Anything interesting happening on your ends, Squiders?

Playing with Structure

I’ve always thought that Nano is a great time to try something new–new structure, new genre, new chronology, whatever–because I feel the format of Nano forces you to keep going where, at other times of year, you might turn back from something new because it’s too different, or because you feel like you aren’t doing it justice.

A lot of the Nano options I was considering for the year would have been “new” in some way, but the ones I narrowed it down to the end had differences in structure that were new to me. And maybe some of them would have been too complex to try during Nano. Or maybe everything would have been fine. Who knows? It’s all moot because I’m not writing those stories at the moment.

The new structure my space dinosaur story has going for it is that it’s composite cast. Most things I’ve written in the past either had a small cast of characters, or a larger cast of characters, of which only a few are truly important. This is the first time where I have a large cast where everyone is of equal importance.

So how do you write a book where you’ve got eight main characters?

Well, in this case, since this is the first book of a series, not everyone has to be equal in this case. So I picked the three characters most affected by the plot to use as viewpoint characters, and, for the first time ever, I’m not numbering my chapters.

(Well, I mean, Hidden Worlds doesn’t have chapters, it has parts, but that’s kind of its own beast in general.)

So I’m 27K in and have no idea how many chapters I have. Some of them are really short, 1000 words or so. They’re just labeled by character. In some ways, it’s kind of freeing, like I’ve loosened the bonds of the dreaded chapters and can do whatever I want.

And sometimes I feel kind of adrift.

But I do think it’s good to try new things, and I can always go back and change structure later if necessary.

How about you, Squiders? If you’re a writer, do you have something you’d like to try, structurally or otherwise, that you are currently doing or have thought about doing? As a reader, have you noticed any really interesting structures in books that you have read recently?

Happy October! (Updates and Misc + Sale)

First of all, Squiders, if you haven’t taken advantage of the Turtleduck Press sale (also featuring my Shards and Hidden Worlds and several anthologies I have stories in, including our newest, Under Her Protection) you have a few hours before the prices go back up! GO GO GO

Happy October! My favorite of months, which I have probably mentioned before, not just because it has both my birthday and Halloween in it. It’s fall and sweaters and cocoa and the promise of holidays and family in the near future. It’s brilliant trees and warm winds. It’s cookies and spices and blankets.

Anyway! What have I been up to lately?

  • I have a secret project I’m working on that shall go live on my birthday (which is October 12) which is both exciting and kind of scary.
  • I’m finally getting deep into the secrets of my serial story, which is exciting. It turns out, when you tell a story month by month, that it takes a long time to complete. My serial story will have been going for five years come January.
  • Editing on my paranormal YA novel continues, though at a slower pace than I would like. I’m about 50K in, but it’s looking like it will be 85-90K in the end. Ideally it will get done before November. Not sure what to do if it doesn’t, as I’m not sure trying to write a novel and edit one at the same time will go well at all.
  • I’ve been exploring story structures. This is something that I think many people pick up through trial and error and work through instinctively, and I feel like it will be in my best interest to have more conscious control process for it.
  • I’ve decided to do the first book of my scifi series for Nano, which shall be exciting. I’ve got the worldbuilding mostly done, but I need to do character work (ethnicies, last names, basic personalities), plot work, and decide on structure. I’m unsure how many point of views will be ideal as of yet, and unsure as to who to use. There will be eight “main” crewmembers, which is too much for a single novel. Best to do a single viewpoint per novel, or a few? Questions to be answered. I’m hoping that, as I expand the plot, it will become obvious who and how many to use.
  • There is a constant stream of short stories being written, edited, and submitted. It’s kind of hard to keep track of them all.

Anyway, I drew you guys a landsquid but then realized that I was at a coffee shop with no scanner, so you shall have to come back on Thursday for that particular brand of madness.

How’s October looking for you, Squiders? Anything fun happening on your ends?

(And seriously–sale! Almost over! Go!)

How Your Subconscious Affects Your Character Interactions

When I was editing Shards last year, I came to a realization about my own writing, and I’ve since talked to several other authors who have confirmed that this happens to them as well.

As an author, you’re privy to information your readers don’t have. And that means you know a character’s true stripes, even if your other characters, and your readers, don’t figure this out until later.

And it turns out that what you think about a character can subconsciously affect how your other characters view that character. For example, if you know you have a character that turns out to be a bad guy later on, then your other characters may view that character with suspicion for no obvious reason in your early drafts.

With the first draft of the first book (say that five times fast) of my high fantasy trilogy, one of the characters does some bad things by the end of the book, but the other characters were mean to him from the get-go, which was confusing to the readers.

There was no reason for the other characters to not like this character. He’d done nothing bad yet. But knew he’d be bad in the end, and apparently that came out through the other characters without me meaning it to.

Luckily, this is something that is fixable and you can train yourself to stop doing it.

However, I was poking at that same fantasy trilogy earlier this week (see last post) and I discovered that, without meaning to, I’d accidentally done it again, but in the opposite direction. Instead of characters treating a bad character suspiciously with no justifiable reason, I had bad characters treating a character like she was good, and would always be good, and it wasn’t even worth it to try and corrupt her, because she would obviously never be corruptible, never mind that it is in these people’s characters to try and corrupt everything they touch.

And what I find most interesting is that, in the five years since I wrote this particular draft of the first book, I’ve had probably a dozen people read it, and not one person ever realized (or at least pointed out) that fact (some of these same people read the earlier draft with the bad person suspicions and caught that one handily). I mean, not even me, til a few days ago.

Which brings up an interesting question–do we, as readers, more easily accept a character as unilaterally good? Do we look at a “good” character and think much along the lines of the villains–that a hero is incorruptible, that they can’t be made to falter, so they need to be defeated straight out rather than through manipulation? Do we automatically assume a character is good until they do something that makes them otherwise?

I went to a panel at a writing conference about mysteries once, and one of the panelists said that they couldn’t know who the murderer was while they were doing the actual writing because otherwise too many clues snuck in. Interesting how the author knowing something can unknowingly affect the story.

Have you encountered this in a story, or in something you’ve written yourself?

Betas’ Memory (and How Trappings Color Readers’ Experiences)

My family seems to be very slowly making their way through ShardsIt seems like every week a different cousin or aunt or uncle is reading it, which is honestly a bit flattering, that everyone’s bothering.

Last week my mother told me that she’d read it, and she said that she was really glad I’d added Thor into the story, that she had really liked him.

The weird thing is–Thor’s been there the whole time, and my mother read the first draft of the book. In fact, I barely touched him at all in my edit, aside from adding an epilogue scene (which of course has other characters in it as well and isn’t focused on him) and having a few other characters mention him before he actually shows up so it wasn’t out of the blue.

It’s interesting being a beta, and then reading the same story in later drafts or after it’s released. You have a memory of how the story went, but most of the time specifics don’t stick unless they either annoyed or pleased you more than usual. You spend a lot of time kind of peering at the text, remembering something slightly different, or wildly different.

But it’s also weird how much you forget, and how much changes in the story can change a readers’ perception of what’s happening. A few paragraphs of description can change the feel of an entire scene, or moving dialogue from one character to another can give the words different meaning.

In this particular case, apparently a few mentions and a new scene–no changes to the original scenes or dialogue–made a character much more memorable for my mother.

Have you ever come across a situation, either in your own writing or through reading something in multiple stages, where an easy change made things wildly different?

Premise vs Plot vs Structure

Some time ago, Squiders, we discussed Premise and Plot. (That’s a fairly short post, but for those too lazy to click through, the basic gist is that a premise is the idea of the story, whereas the plot is the series of events in a story.)

Today we’re going to expand this a little and talk about structure. What is structure? The structure of a story is how the plot is presented. It’s chronology, viewpoints, tense. It’s when certain events happen in a story.

The plot doesn’t necessary vary based on structure, but the structure can make for very different stories with the same plot.

For example, let’s say we have a plot with plot points A, B, C, and D.

Story 1 is presented in a linear fashion, so A, B, C, and D are presented to the reader in the order they happen.

Story 2 is presented in a nonlinear fashion, so we start with C, go back to B, then back to A, and finish up with D.

Story 3 has multiple viewpoints, so character 1 presents their side of the story, and then character 2 presents their side.

Story 4 intertwines A, B, C, and D with a separate story of plot points E, F, G, and H, alternating between the two plots.

The plot points don’t change because the structure changes. The events still happen in the order they happen. What changes with the structure is merely the presentation.

Your story has a structure whether you think about it or not. Some people plan their structure out in advance, whereas others just happen.

Perhaps the most common structure in story-telling is the Three-Act structure, which consists of a beginning inciting incident, a middle section where conflict builds, and a final concluding section. There are, of course, other structures, and even Three-Act structures can vary, based on when the turning points in between acts fall. (Some people say the inciting incident should occur about 10% of the way through the story, while others say 25%, for example.)

A common variation of the Three-Act structure  looks more like an increasing sine wave (sorry, engineer, don’t know how else to explain it) where a series of mini-climaxes accompany the act transitions, leading up to the final climax at the end of the story.

So.

Premise = idea

Plot = series of events

Structure = presentation of plot