As I've studied story I found the rules of structure to be incredibly helpful. So you can imagine my surprise when I read posts by other authors claiming they hated formulaic writing and thought it made their stories dull. The thing is, if you want your story to "work" it has to follow some basic rules. Just like a building needs scaffolding in the beginning, you need structure in your work. First, in today’s post we’re going to discuss the basics of structure while you’re outlining your story. Then later on this week I’ll talk about how you can keep the necessary scenes without becoming predictable.
For now though, let’s focus on the basics.
You’ve probably heard of the three act structure. Your novel is no different. It needs to be made of a beginning (also known as the hook), middle (ends with the climax), and end (resolution). In between these essential elements are more essential elements. Each story needs a crisis and progressive complications. How you achieve these elements will depend largely on your genre. I won’t go into it too much but for the sake of illustrating my point, in a romance, you need to have the lovers meet and you have to have them break up towards the end or be pulled apart before coming together for a happily ever after ending. These are known as obligatory scenes. They are genre based and if you spend some time going over your favorite movies and books you can figure out what they are for each.
Now for a little math, because some of us are ridiculous when it comes to planning. The rule of thumb regarding how long each of the three acts should be is 25% for beginning, 50% for the middle, and the remaining 25% for the end.
When you’re setting up your outline, all of this information can it make easier. I used to outline in bullet points of brief descriptions of scenes I knew needed to be in the book. That’s not very effective when you’re trying to write fast and my goals for this year are all about writing quality books fast. I didn’t set out to create a stronger outline, but I have to say this has made it so much easier. I broke my 80k word novel up into three about 50 scenes (1500-2k word scenes make them bite sized and easier for the reader to justify staying up to finish the chapter or just read one more). Then I broke it down into 12 scenes for the beginning, 24 for the middle and then 12 more for the end. Filling in the necessary bits, I was only left with a handful of scenes to connect the dots and bring the story full circle. I still reserve the right to explore any new or exciting I might come with during the actual writing process but I’ve found it so much easier to sit down and just write the scenes I need and make real progress towards finishing this novel without being “in the mood” or waiting for some ridiculous muse to show her face.
If you want a deeper look at story structure and obligatory scenes, check out Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid. He goes over The Silence of the Lambs and gives a lot of information about the thriller genre. If you’re looking for info more info about romance obligatory scenes, check out CS Lakin. And if you have information about another genre and would like to share, I’d love to see it in the comments below. I find this stuff fascinating. I wish I could dissect genres and just write this stuff out for authors but I have a romance series to write!
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, blog and her website.
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