Story Structure: Getting Started
by Tyora Moody
A few years ago, I was talking with a woman from my church. I made the mistake of confessing to her I wanted to write a book. She proceeded to ask me a question that put a damper on my spirit. “But Ty, there are so many books in the world, what could you write that’s any different?” Yeah, that’s a real “encouraging” statement. I want you to believe you can get over the hurdle of writing your first book.
Creating a Story (Main Plot and Subplots)
The main plot consist of the series of the events that drive the reader to turn the pages of the book. If you have a story idea and you are also a reader, you might have noticed there are quite a few similarities in most stories. Let’s look at two.
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl break-ups with boy. Boy and girl make-up and get married. How original is that story? Well, that’s the underlining plot for most romance novels. Still, romance remains the most popular genre.
Same with mystery. Somebody was killed. Several people are suspects. The real murderer is found.
According to some research, there are only 36 basic plots. Those novels that get published have something about them that set them apart from ever other story. Paying particular attention to your character development and adding subplots that support the main plot can set your future novel apart. Okay, so how do you come up with stories?
Exploring Writing Processes
Once I started letting people know I finished a manuscript, they wanted to know how I did it. In all honesty, just like DNA everybody has their own particular process for structuring a story. Discovering a process that worked for me, made all the difference when it came to writing the second manuscript. There are two main writing processes and in some cases the processes will overlap depending on the writer. Now what I’m introducing does not include all the little bitty “things” a writer might do (playing music, writing in a coffee shop, morning vs. night writing, etc.) to really set their process apart from another writer.
A. Seat of the Pants (Pantser)
This style I can say is NOT me and also happens to be the format I started with for the first manuscript. I think it’s safe to say most writers start out this way when presented with a blank screen or notebook paper. With this process, the writer types up the scenes as they appear in their minds. They can sit at the keyboard for hours and write a reasonable set of chapters. Somehow the action flows from one scene to the next, making up a believable story.
I admire writers who write not really knowing what’s coming next. Recently, for the NaNoWrimo contest, I tried this style. Again. I cranked out three chapters and then quickly ran out of steam. Mainly because I am NOT a seat of the pants writer. I fit in the other category.
B. The Plotter (Planner)
I write mysteries. It’s important to keep up with clues and suspects. Some of those clues point to the real suspect, while other clues, known as red herrings, point to possible suspects. It took me a while, but I learned it helped me to keep track of the main plot and subplots by keeping a detailed chapter outline. Now when I start a manuscript, I have a pretty good idea of how many chapters and scenes I will need.
Now remember, I said earlier that sometimes the processes overlap. While I outline the chapters, I still have a blank canvas in front of me. This means my characters are still going to tell the story. They might decide to throw a wrench in the plot. That’s okay, I will stop and refer back to the chapter outline and make adjustments.
So, Let’s Do This!
I encourage you to grab a notebook and write down a few ideas. Do some of these ideas make sense as a main plot? How can you take your characters and create subplots to support the main plot? No matter what process you use to write, a little bit of planning doesn’t hurt. Write a few chapters. It’s okay to write bad. Don’t worry about editing. Does the story flow easily from one scene to the next (seat of the pants)? Do you need to think about the scenes a little more with a chart or an outline (plotter)?
Have fun and enjoy the journey as you write your first manuscript.