All I Learned About Structure

Before I go any further, I will preface everything I say here with this:  I am NOT a professional writer by any stretch of the imagination.  I am like you.  I work a 5 to 3 job every day and write whenever I can.  I’m NOT a best-selling author (though I really wish I was).  I have only written one book and it is on Amazon.  So the information you get in these posts are things I have learned while studying the art and craft of writing.  The things I say in these articles are what I wish I knew before I even picked up that first pencil to write my first words on a raggedy notebook that became the beginnings of my very first novel.  Again, these are things I really wished someone would have shown me and not the words of a seasoned professional.  Take it as you will, I can only hope that someone out there learns something from it.

After hearing that there was such thing as structure in a novel, I really didn’t know where to begin.  At the time, googling wasn’t a thing…neither was the Internet.  (I’m not that old, am I?)  So I was left trying to find what I needed in either the library or a bookstore.  It wasn’t until much later (when googling finally became a thing) that I discovered what structure meant.

As I mentioned in the previous post, structure in a novel is much like building a house.  Certain things have to be in place in order for the rest to fit into place.  You can’t put a roof up and expect it to stand while you put the walls or foundation under it.  It just doesn’t work like that.  (Yes even a Swiss house needs a foundation and walls to support the roof.)

Now, here is where theories begin to diverge a bit.  When I first started writing, I took on Stephen King’s philosophy of writing.  Write first, then ask questions later and I was able to write all the way to “The End”, but when I read it, I knew that I would have to start all over.  Upon that realization, my head deflated and all the will was suddenly drained.  It took me forever to recuperate.  I tried to keep up the writing, but my heart was never truly in it.  That was about October of 2002.  It’s October of 2017 and I recently published that book in March.  So that makes it fifteen years of trying to fix what I saw was truly broken.

So what did learn from that?  The Seat-of-the-Pants writing style wasn’t for me.  I became a Planner, but I needed to learn how to plan.  Before I learned how to do it correctly, I overplanned, meaning I planned too much detail.  By the time I finished my first outline, it was more than twenty pages and I had burnt myself out.  I was coming to the end of my rope.

Then mobile devices came to the rescue!

I was able to download books onto my mobile devices and read them anywhere and everywhere I went.  So I took to searching popular websites for books and downloaded them.  One of them I found particularly interesting, it was How To Write Using The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson (https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/).  That’s where I began to fall back in love with writing.  It talks about structure but in a way that’s not so overwhelming.

The whole book is devoted to not only exploring the Snowflake Method itself, but also is the example to follow.  At the most basic level, the Snowflake Method demonstrates the 3-Act structure.

So I keep saying the 3-Act structure, right?  So, what is it?  It’s just one of several different structures out there that help build your new house of words.  There are probably hundreds of different ideas of how this should go, but this is an article about what I wish I had known before I started writing, so I can only go with what I found useful.  Again, this may work for you as it did for me, or it may not.

The basic 3-Act structure is as follows:

Act I
Act II
Act III

Tada!  No just kidding.  There’s a lot more to it than that.

Act I

This part is the very beginning of our story.  This is where the unwary and unwilling hero stumbles onto something that will change his life forever.  Most of the time, our hero would rather do anything else than to continue on with the story.  It’s because it makes him uncomfortable to continue on that path.  Someone, though, will force his hand and he’ll have to move or he’ll lose something near and dear to him.  According to the Snowflake Method, that would be the first disaster.  That also moves us into the second act.

Act II

This is the middle of the story.  The meat-and-bones of it all.  This is where the hero figures out that someone is behind the nefarious deeds that led him down this path.  He meets others along the way to help him answer the questions about where he needs to go and what he needs to do.  Then somewhere along the way (usually close to the middle), he figures out what he needs to do and instead of going on the defensive, he goes on the offensive.  This is the second disaster from the Snowflake method.  Now he’s in it to win it.  But, lo, something is discovered about our hero that causes distress with his allies.  Some secret, some critical flaw, something not-so-good.  This causes a rift in their relationship or something really bad to happen.  It is something so bad that the hero doesn’t think he can recover and makes him ready to give up.  This would be the third disaster.  Our hero, either with the help of someone close to him or through some sort of revelation of his own accord, figures out what he needs to do to save the world from the impending doom created by the antagonist.  This will take him into the third act.

Act III

This is where the hero gathers his troops to take on the big guy (or gal).  He must use whatever skills he’s attained throughout the story and then dig even deeper to figure out how to use them to make the antagonist see the error of his ways.  Once the danger is over and the enemy is vanquished, the hero must show how he changed and how everything goes back to as normal as it can be.

Ok, that is a bit simplistic, I know.  In further posts, I will explore a little more of this in detail.  So thanks for reading my rambling and please keep reading further posts.

The next article is here:

Act I, The Beginning, or Whatever You May Call It

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