Monday, January 3, 2011

The Challenge of Story Structure

Ninja Warrior Obstacle Course, pic from this site
Have you felt this way about your story? Like good story structure is a ninja obstacle course with an un-hole-y plot on the other side, but you just can't seem to reach it across that mud pond?

Lots of people say the answer is to outline. But what if you write an outline and then blow it off for an exciting new development? Is there a perfect medium between outlined and inspired?

I'm wondering this myself. See, I totally wrote an outline for my WIP using the six-point structure of screen writers. 

Stage 1: The Setup

Stage 2: New Situation

Stage 3: Progress

Stage 4: Complications/Higher Stakes

Stage 5: The Final Push

Stage 6: The Aftermath

I wrote a short paragraph for each stage, making for a pretty complete synopsis, what would function as a book proposal if I were writing non-fiction. But when I got to about page twenty of the actual writing, something went wrong. I accidentally wrote a detail that derailed the other five stages.


So then I cut the offending piece and moved it to my gigantic EXCERPTS file, but I wasn't satisfied with my storyline anymore. A complication--an appealing complication--had been introduced into my mind. Suddenly, I needed to explore that. I had to write a bunch of scenes from different POVs to explore what could be. I had to reevaluate whether or not I even wanted to write the whole thing in dual POV. Present or past tense? And should it be her story, or his?

You could say that all this resulted from my failure to commit. Some people romanticize it by saying their characters surprised them or their story took on a life of its own. As for me, I prefer to think of it as a test. It's the universe testing me to see if I have what it takes to write this story. Maybe that's just my stubbornness talking; I do tend to see everything as a test of my will. :)

So what can you do when your story takes over and spoils your well-laid plans?

There's nothing to do but THINK.

I believe this point is what separates those awesome published writers I idolize from beginning writers. A beginner will just plow through and hope it all comes together somehow. A seasoned writer will know this is the time for deep thought. They're being given an opportunity to make their story something more than what they intended. But without careful thought and re-imagining, the story can easily become an unrecognizable blob of half-stories that don't quite click together.

What do you think? Does your story ever take over? What causes it, and what do you do to get your story moving again?

For a nice pick-me-up, go read literary agent Sarah Davies' 2011 wishes for you.

Also, from Larry Brooks at, 12 Worthy Writing Resolutions

And for eye candy plus a reading/writing tip from Amparo, check out Do What You Don't


  1. Love, love this post. I have the tendency to plow through things, where I really should pause to think things through. And thank you for the link to Sarah Davies' post. It's lovely.

  2. Thank you, Emy! Yeah, you and I have the same tendency, then. This post doubles as my reminder. New Year's Resolution: Think more before and as I write. :)

  3. I usually know the beginning and what I want to happen in the end, but characters always screw it up! They take over a lot for me. I can't control them, but then again, I don't want to.

  4. Yes! I hear that a lot, and I've experienced it a few times. It's at times unsettling and other times exhilarating. :)


Speak up! You will be heard...or read.