Thursday, September 29, 2005

structure of a story

I hate to outline because -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- I hate to push or force the Muse. Hehe. I have a rough idea in my head. The story already has a certain shape, texture, color, mood. It's almost all there; I just can't see it. I need to dig it up. But for some reason with my last book (Before I Wake) I decided I would try something different. The three or four act construction. (I think I chose four.) According to the rules of structure, somewhere around page 100 the protagonist is supposed to come to a BIG decision. (This already feels much too late to me.)

Yes, damn it. I will sacrifice everything to restore order to the planet! I will give a kidney to the asshole who broke my heart! I will accept the biggest challenge of my life!

The second and third act will contain some small climaxes and story arcs, and you should hit the beginning of the biggest climax around page 300. (I tried to find the book with all these rules, but maybe I burned it.) 300 seems too soon, but anyway I think it was 300 if your ms is around 400 pages. Anyway, 300 is when all shit breaks loose and people are running around, getting killed, hiding, getting killed some more. Guns. Knives. Crazy stuff. Put it here.

I don't think the process worked very well for me. The book felt forced, and the shifts between acts were too pronounced. Actually, I think I tend to subconsciously use a rough version of the three or four act structure anyway, but with smoother transitions.

Anyway, tried it. Can't say you don't like brussel sprouts if you haven't tried them. But I'm back to Zenning my way through a story. Thing is, I want the journey to surprise me. If that isn't happening, I get bored. I don't want to always be driving. I want to enjoy the ride.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Rob Gregory Browne said...

Coming from a screenwriting background I'm usually very aware of the three-act structure, but I don't consciously think of it anymore when I'm writing.

You're right, I think. Page 100 seems way to late. I'd worry that I'm boring the hell out of my readers if something significant didn't happen before then.

I think counting pages is too mechanical. With book two I'm winging it in terms of structure, but I have to admit I'm a little concerned whether its making any sense. My hero is going to encounter something quite shocking around page 40-45, so, of course, I'm concerned that that's too early.

Who ever said writing isn't tough work?

I guess the key is to just go with your gut.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

too. God, I hate it when other people do that, so imagine how I feel when *I* do it. toooooooo late is what I meant to say.

Kelly Parra said...

I'm a big novice to writing, as you know. *g* So I don't know about the 3 or 4 act structure. By I do work with some outlines to give myself a direction to go toward, you know? I try not to confine myself to them...if something else works better I'm definitely putting it in. =D

Jeff said...

I'm using a very basic outline for the story I'm working on now. And I mean VERY basic. Honestly, I'm using it soley for the purpose of keeping the events I have already "seen" in the story unfold in a logical order. Too much structure and planning and I feel like I'm writing a textbook.
I understand what you mean by wanting the journey to surprise you.
If, after 100 pages I'm bored with what I have written, how in the world can I expect to keep my readers in a state of page turning suspense? :)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Anyone interest in learning about three act structure for novels might want to read The Weekend Novelist by Robert Ray.

I think he lays it out pretty well, but it's been a long, long while since I've read the book.

I think he also has a sequel called The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery or something along those lines.

Jer said...

I agree, Anne. With my first ms I just wrote in hotel rooms (the fleet wasn't in, so I had nothing better to do). When I got near the end, however, I found that I needed a little more structure. So I did something like: Chap 30 Joan discovers Lydia is eating chocolate after swearing off the stuff. Chap 31 Jonathan tempts Lydia with chocolate rabbit. And so on.

Of course, the above characters do not appear in my stuff.

jason evans said...

Hey Anne,

I've finally put an end to something I've been delinquent on. I picked up Play Dead and Sleep Tight today. I've already got two of my associates interested (they are on strict orders to buy their own, however)!

Kelly Parra said...

Which reminds me...I'm still on look out for SLEEP TIGHT, Damn it. ;D

Rob Gregory Browne said...

All of Anne's books are at my local Borders, so I assume they'd be at yours as well. That is, of course, if you have a Borders....

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Okay, I've officially commented WAY too much on this post.

anne frasier said...

rob: thanks for the title. i spent an hour trying to find the book i was talking about. no luck!

jason: thanks!

kelly and jeff: yes, i really think you have to do what works best for you.

jer: hollow milk chocolate bunnies. yummm....

anne frasier said...

rob -- just saw your last post.

hehe

oh, and i never noticed the too/to. i'm always typing your instead of you're.

Kelly Parra said...

Rob, nope, not lucky enough to live near a Borders, just our little Waldenbooks and B. Dalton at the mall. Have to take a little trip a couple of towns over. But when I do get to, ah, bliss... =D Thanks, next time I'm there, I'll check.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

So just to add even MORE of my presence to this post, if anyone is interested in my view of structure, I've posted an article I wrote awhile back for Screentalk Magazine. It's on my blog.

Thanks for the free advertising space, Anne... :)