Are you a planner, or do you write by the seat of your pants? I do a bit of both, but one thing I’ve learned is that I do need to have a rough outline in my head before I get started, to keep me on the straight and narrow as I write, but the small details and the scenes can be put in on the fly.
In other words, I need a structure. For an even better metaphor, think about building a house. If you don’t have a frame and a foundation, it doesn’t matter how fancy the roof and the windows are, it’s going to collapse. If you’ve got a strong base, you can change your mind a zillion times about paint color and flooring and trim and siding and roofing, and the house will still stand.
So how much structure am I talking about here?
I’m talking about a Beginning, a Middle, and an End. Three Acts.
I’m not talking about a huge outline, or a detailed board with sticky notes and highlighters. I’m talking about just enough to have a guidepost as you make your way through the story. Guideposts help me keep on the path of the story I’ve planned, and if there’s a major roadblock or plot problem as I’m going I still have a light at the end (or the middle) of the tunnel to make sure I haven’t strayed too far. Too much detail in an outline makes me feel like I’ve screwed up if I follow the rabbit down the hole, which is sometimes the right thing to do. I need just enough to keep it moving forward.
The best way to see what I’m talking about is to grab your favorite novel, and break it down. Write one sentence that captures the first part, one sentence that captures the middle part, and one sentence that captures the end.
One book that I find does this well is Holes, a middle grade novel, that actually has at least three, three act structures running through it. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read it, or seen the movie version. It’s a quick read, if you haven’t yet picked it up, and well worth it to see what I mean.
- Beginning: Elya Yelnats goes to see Madame Zeroni about winning his love.
- Middle: Elya carries the pig up the mountain and otherwise does what Madame Zeroni tells him, but doesn’t come back for Madame Zeroni and ends up walking away from his love.
- End: Stanley Yelnats (in modern day) carries Zero up the mountain, breaking the curse
- Beginning: Kate Barlow teaches at a local school and falls in love with Sam the onion farmer
- Middle: Their romance is discovered by the town bully and Kate Barlow takes revenge, becoming Kissing Kate Barlow
- End: The town bully’s granddaughter runs the juvenile delinquency camp Stanley ends up in, digging holes to look for Kissing Kate Barlow’s treasure; Stanley and Zero find it first.
- Beginning: Stanley Yelnats and his family talk about how their family has no luck but bad, they tell the story of their family curse, and his father’s failed inventions are all over their apartment
- Middle: Stanley gets in trouble for stealing Sweetfeet’s donated cleats, and gets sent to the juvenile delinquency camp
- End: Stanley and Zero run away, find the spring Stanley’s grandfather found after Kissing Kate Barlow stole his fortune, and find the fortune that saves his family, as well as the secret to solving his father’s invention, foot odor spray.
Pick your favorite book and try to see if you can pick out the three acts. Is there more than one story in three acts - many times this is true.
Once you’ve figured out how to divide a story, how does the story in your head break down into three acts? It’s a good way to start figuring out how to structure your story. Once the structure is there, it’s the time to put up the walls, and decide how to make it yours.
©2014 Addie King
Addie J. King is an attorney by day, and author by nights, evenings, weekends, and whenever else she can find a spare moment. Her short story “Poltergeist on Aisle Fourteen” was published in Mystery Times Ten 2011 by Buddhapuss Ink, and an essay entitled, “Building Believable Legal Systems in Science Fiction and Fantasy” was published in Eighth Day Genesis; A Worldbuilding Codex for Writers and Creatives by Alliteration Ink. Her novels, The Grimm Legacy, The Andersen Ancestry and The Wonderland Woes are available now from Musa Publishing. She is currently working on the fourth book, The Bunyon Barter. You can follow her at: www.addiejking.com, http://www.amazon.com/Addie-J.-King/e/B005DYMDHQ, Twitter @addiejking, and Facebook Addie J. King
Thank you Addie! Buddhapuss Ink LLC is proud to be a small, but solid house known for great fiction and nonfiction books, written for readers with brains, by authors who have more than just one book in them.
READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when our guest will be Martie Ingebretse telling us where she finds her writing inspiration . Until then, "Butt in chair, WRITE!
~ The Black Cat