During the month of August we’re exploring the essential elements of story. So it seems fitting to include a fundamental subject like structure right off the bat. “Narrative Structure, Part One: What It Is and How to Use It,” by Scott McCormick over at BookBaby, discusses the “rules” of structure because, he argues, you have to know the rules to be able to break them. And as a developmental editor, he ought to know. McCormick does a pretty thorough job of explaining the three-act structure using movies to illustrate his points. He also defines the difference between structure and plot. “Structure deals with generalities; plot deals with specifics,” he explains. He has promised to cover “when, how, and why to stray from structure,” in part two. I’ve actually been checking back to see if he’s posted. Nothing yet. Hurry up, Scott. I’m patiently waiting! (I’m smiling as I say that.) Good article.
Speaking of plots, “Tightening Your Story’s Cause and Effect Chain with ‘And So,'” by Dawn Field, gives writers practical tips for checking their plots. She explains the difference between causal events and episodic ones. In the former, each plot point leads to the next in a causal relationship that should be “believable and compelling to the reader.” The writer should be able to insert “and so” between these points. In places where “and so” doesn’t work, that is where the chain is broken.
I think writers might also benefit from this method when stuck in the plot, not sure where the story is headed next. Writing the points down, as she suggests, might also make it much easier to write the “dreaded synopsis” that many writers struggle with. I know I’ll be trying this out for myself when I revise my novel.
Last, I found an article on pacing that had me at the first line: “Pacing, as it applies to fiction, could be described as the manipulation of time.” In “Pacing in Writing Techniques You Need to Know,” Gerry Visco does an excellent job of explaining when to use scene and when to use summary as well as how to properly use flashbacks and foreshadowing. If I had a hard copy of it in front of me, I’d be highlighting points, and at this stage of the game–twenty plus years in the writing-editing gig–that says something. I particularly found the explanations of scene and summary helpful from an editor’s standpoint, as it’s not easy to teach about scene and summary to writers who don’t understand the difference. This one will go in my personal files.
Stay tuned for more discussions on story the whole month of August.
Do you struggle with structure, plotting, or pacing? Tell us about it in the comments.
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