Getting My Acts Together (Maybe)

Story Quest

I’ll confess, I don’t think much about story structure while I’m writing a first draft of something.

I usually know where I want the story to end and can generally figure out where the beginning is within a few chapters, but I’m usually fine with winging the journey.

Until I start editing.

And then I’m forced to either justify or cut (noooooooo!) all those metaphorical ninjas I threw in when I thought the pace was dragging, or the philosophical discussion about nose hair that went so well with the story I thought I was writing, but not so much with the one I seem to have written instead.

Which is why I’m wondering if I might want to try a little planning for once.  Run up a little outline, give pre-structuring a try.

I’m a bit worried about losing some of the fun—see image above—or that structure might equal predictability or (oddly) loss of control over my own story.

But  the imaginations of poets and composers thrive within some pretty rigid forms.

And there are some fundamental physical laws that have to be followed when you design a building, but that doesn’t mean everything has to look like the Taj Mahal.

And you can make pretty much any muffin you want, as long as you get the basic proportions right.*

Plus, I’ve been re-reading Alexandra Sokoloff’s excellent blog posts (scroll down past the books, though I recommend those, too) about structure and story elements and getting one’s Acts together.

She makes knowing what you’re about to do sound easy, fun, and creative.

And Lord knows that would be a novel—pun totally intended—experience for me.

Anyone have any experience with outlining? Story structure?
Comparisons between writing and other art forms?
Awesome muffin recipes (looking at you, Dee)?


*Although that’s no guarantee they’ll  be edible. Or that your family will touch ’em.  Thus endeth the analogy.

(Thank Tom Gauld for the excellent image and Watson for finding it somewhere)


18 thoughts on “Getting My Acts Together (Maybe)

  1. I have absolutely no advice on outlining or structure, b/c I too have a serious problem just writing what I want, when I want, how I want, anywhere/anytime….I’ve been planning on writing a book for over 6 years now and the story line just gets better and better as time goes on..(i’m beginning to think that it may just end up being a book in my head, if I never actually start this thing called novel writing)….BUT, I regress I do think that structure IS needed (in some fashion and at some point) and I wish you the best of luck. Sorry for the random tangent on my own personal issues of writing ADD but figured the encouragement and understanding of a fellow unstructuralist could be of some help, somewhere. 😉

    • While I have a six-year old book I’ve been editing for a while . . .

      “Writing ADD” is an excellent description, Bella, and encouragement and understanding are always welcome. Thanks! 😀

      • your most welcome. Thank you for the link as well, I have saved it to my favs…..excellent descriptions are what happen when you don’t filter your brain waves and just let the juices keep flowing out…sans structure. 😉

  2. I think you ably described the difference between a writer and a blogger, for me at least. I have read the comments of so many aspiring writers who have noted, “I love blogging but I have to get serious now and get back to work on my book.”
    I do not think I am serious enough about writing to write a book, but I love writing on my blog.

    • Blogging vs. fiction writing really more of a time crunch thing for me than “serious” vs. “non-serious.”

      It’s difficult to compare the two—they’re completely different types of writing, and there’s certainly something to be said for the interactions provided in a blog!

  3. The first draft of *this book* happened much more quickly with an outline. I took two weeks creating it before writing a word. Even with all the planning, I’m still cutting and rewriting a main plot on this end. (I can show you my minimized Word window.) Go figure. Maybe by the third book I’ll be better at outlining (too).

    • I’m told writing is like parenting—it doesn’t really ever get easier, it just gets different.

      I hope the person who said that is wrong on both counts! 😀

  4. I’m totally with you. Next attempt will have some sort of outline (I’m fully aware that I’ve been known to lie to myself about this).
    My first, first draft was winging it, which led to a very general outline, which led to filling in the blanks. I did find that writing what I had outlined took some of the energy out of it for me. But now, on round three, I’ve laid out the chapters, reworked what goes where and then noted with a sentence what still needs to be written as I edit. As this explanation shows, I may just be one of those people that needs to go around their elbow to get to their arse…
    The downside of that is that I will never have a quick book in me. Nuts.

    • “I may just be one of those people that needs to go around their elbow to get to their arse…”

      I think you’ve managed to explain me to me, Lyra! 😀

      Editing will have to happen anyway, obviously, but I’m hoping planning things out a little–or at least following a planning structure—might speed the process a little . . . we’ll see how it goes!

  5. For me the only real drawback to outlining is the dissipation of energy; all my enthusiasm gets spent early which makes it difficult to get the fire back when it comes time to write. The way I’m getting around this is by writing the most interesting parts first, skipping around the manuscript to find the most dramatic scenes or the ones that are key to the characters.

    I say this as if I’ve done it before, but this is the first time I’ve written to an outline. I’ll report back if it all goes horribly wrong.

    • Please do—although I suspect you have energy to spare, Averil!

      I have a feeling my outline is going to have a lot of dialogue in it, and maybe whole scenes.

  6. These Pecan Pie Muffins have been making the rounds (I think I found it on facebook somewhere)

    1c. packed light brown sugar
    1/2c. all-purpose flour
    2c. chopped pecans
    2/3c. butter, softened
    2 eggs, beaten

    Preheat oven to 350. Grease muffin cups generously. In medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour and pecans. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and butter together. Stir in dry ingredients just until combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups, about 2/3 full. Bake 12-13 minutes for mini muffins or 15-17 minutes for regular sized muffins. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin to aid in their removal from pan.

  7. I always outline when I write screenplays/teleplays, but I just can’t seem to do it with my novels. I find that with my fiction, the characters have minds of their own, you know? They’ll go where they want to go and say what they want to say. This is part of the fun of writing fiction, I think.

    • I don’t think a strict outline would work for me, either, Wayne, but maybe figuring out some of the basic plot points first would be helpful?

      Is it weird to wing an outline?

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