January 12th, 2017


Falling into Structure

Among writers and other people involved in the books biz, there’s often discussion about various plot structures and their merits or whether they should even be used at all. Some claim they hate the hero’s journey or the three-act structure, or Save the Cat, or whatever the current trend is. But the thing is, I suspect most of them come down to more or less the same thing, expressed in different ways, and if you’re doing it right, you’re probably going to fall into these structures, even if you didn’t plan it that way.

For instance, the last few days I’ve been writing the big midpoint part of the book — not the climax, but the big stuff that happens in the middle to lead up to the climax. If you’re thinking in terms of the hero’s journey, that would be the Ordeal section. I did plan that because I’ve found that the best way to avoid a sagging middle is to write a big action sequence in the middle of the book. It’s kind of the midterm exam for the characters — they’re being tested on what they’ve learned so far and realize that they aren’t quite ready for the final confrontation, so they have to regroup before we get to the big climax of the story.

Yesterday’s writing picked up from that and went into the aftermath, a quieter scene of waiting, characters who hadn’t spent much time together getting to have a conversation, and even a bit of romance. And then I realized that without having planned it that way, I was writing the Reward scene (aka Seizing the Sword). It’s the regrouping after the Ordeal, a time of letting the characters and the readers catch their breath, often a time of bonding or a love scene. It’s the emotional aftermath of what they’ve just gone through. I didn’t chart it out to happen that way. It was just what seemed logical to write next, and that’s why the pattern is the pattern. It’s what makes sense in storytelling to maintain the sense of tension and emotion.

Today’s writing should get to another big emotional moment, as it involves a big discovery about something I’ve been teasing for a while, and I don’t have anything I really need to do today, other than write (and maybe a walk to the post office), so I hope to get a lot done, since I’m out all day tomorrow and Saturday at Choristers Guild. There’s a specific session on dealing with “live wires” in young children, and I need all the help I can get with my choir. My gang of unruly boys seems to absolutely love being there — they race to be first and would happily come into the room as soon as I arrive to set up if I let them — but it seems to be more about getting to play together than about actually doing choir stuff. My reward for going to learn how to direct my kids is getting to participate in a few of the adult sessions to learn to be a better singer. The sightreading sessions, where everyone else in the room is a professional, mostly with music degrees, are daunting and challenging, but still a lot of fun, and I get to sing first soprano for a change.