Structure of Writing - OryCon 33


Structure of Writing
Victoria Blake, Jason Brock, S.A. Bolich, Devon Monk, Richard A. Lovett
  • Panel
    • Victoria: Love structure.
    • Jason: editor and filmmaker. like playing with structure. you can do a lot with it. mix it up, not just flashbacks, but other ways to tell the stories.
    • Devon Monk: several series. had to learn and internalize structure quickly as she had to write several novels very fast.
    • Richard Lovett: been accused of being too structure. just had his 100th story accepted by analog.
    • S.A. Bolich
  • What do you look for? 
    • Victoria: Your structure can serve as a proposal for the story that is separate from plot. Structure changes timeline, or scene, or point of view character that creates a whiplash effect. It’s like a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. It’s not a release of new information (like the plot), it’s how and when the information is released.
    • Richard: His first story accepted by Analog has 14 point of view characters in 6,000 words using a strict rhyming scheme. A/B/A/B/A/B/A/B/C, then new scene.
    • Devon: 
      • We look for things in three.
      • Beginning, middle, end.
      • It’s getting bad, it’s getting worse, it’s as bad as it’s going to be. 
      • Christopher Vogel’s The Writer’s Journey. It’s based on the Hero’s Journey.
      • Hero's Journey Overview (wikipedia)
        • Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD
        • they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE
        • They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
        • are encouraged by a MENTOR to
        • CROSS THE THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
        • they encounter TEST, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
        • They APPROACH THE IN-MOST CAVE, cross a second threshold
        • where they endure the ORDEAL
        • They take possession of their REWARD and
        • are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
        • They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
        • They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the ORDINARY WORLD.
  • Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
  • Blake:
    • Write first.
    • Then ask your story for its structure.
    • How intellectual do I want this to be?
    • What is the timeframe of the story?
    • It’ll tell you what it wants to be.
    • Then do the hard work of mapping the story to that structure.
  • Ask yourself why events occur when they do.
    • If he becomes telekenetic on page 30 - why does it happen on page 30? Why not on page 35, or 28.
  • There’s microstructure and macrostructure.
  • Structure had better drive your story.
  • Bolich: I ask each scene: Did the character get what they want?
    • It should be “Yes, but...” or “No, and...”
    • They both create tension and keep the story going. Any other action is insufficient to propel the story forward. 
    • If the answer is simply yes, or simply no, that’s not enough.
  • A linear story is by nature episodic. Which gets repetitive. But you can fix this by modulating what you say.
    • The novel mixed exposition and narrative to achieve this.
    • The Road is a good example of this. 
  • Lovett: Readers have been told so much that you are supposed to start in the middle of the action -- that it becomes hard to give them a strictly linear story. 
    • Monk: Depends on the genre. Different standards for different genre.
      • For me, the best opening is about people and conflicts.
  • Bolich: You can experiment, but not everything will work. 
  • Blake: Is there a fiction book that teaches you something about structure
  • Bolich spoke about writing in five act structure.
  • Lovett: It’s fun, especially in short form, to experiment with things that especially limit you. I did one story that was done entirely in the form of a discussion board discussion.
  • TV has really changed things. They have a four act structure with a prefix. It’s not the same as five act structure.
  • Blake: Another way to think about it is chronic tension vs. acute tension.
    • chronic tension is what your characters are built of. this is your character story.
    • acute tension is your plot. this is your action story. the acute tension dips down into the chronic tension. 
    • Monk: this is your internal change and external change.
    • Blake: I use an excel document and track the characters and tension in scene by scene, color coding things.
  • Brock: 
    • I write the first draft
    • I wait a few days
    • I print it out, and I read the whole thing on the printed page.
    • I go through the whole thing with a red pen. I’m spotting grammatically mistakes and also look for structural things.
    • Then I revised it and embellish it.
    • then I print it out, and go over it again.
    • I’ll rearrange paper pages to change structure.
  • Lovett: I do something similar. I’m looking for a sense of balance. I’m doing it intuitively. Also, I do it in print.
  • Q: Explain the excel thing again
    • Blake: 
    • If I have five main characters, I color code them.
    • On the left hand side I put the chapters
    • Then I’ll have a color coded block for each point of view character that shows up in that scene.
  • Blake: As an editor, when I review something, I do a 5-7 page review letter. Plus I also send along excel documents and supporting documentation.
    • I’m expecting that the author can defend their decisions.
  • Q: How do I know where chapters start and end?
    • Bolich: My rule is that it’s the action that goes together.
    • Lovett: One rule of thumb is not to intimidate the reader with large blocks of text. This effects paragraph structure and chapters. This usually comes up around 3,000 to 5,000 words. Now look for the natural breakpoints.
    • Blake: the chapters can tell a story. Let’s say your book is about a woman and a killer. 
      • You might expect something like W / W / W / K / W / W / W / K / W / W / K / W / W / K / K.
      • That tells you something right there about the story.
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