How to Structure a Novel

Finished the first shaggy draft of my current WIP at the end of November. Set it aside for the holidays and a sweet trip with my husband to our Florida home. I have a writing group in St. Pete, and we do weekly prompts, so I was still writing while the novel rested.

Back home in Detroit, a few months later, I read the pages I’d dashed off as 2018 concluded. They were not good. They were worse than usual. I conferred with my Michigan writing group and we brainstormed ways to improve the draft. In my writing room, I began blocking out every scene, writing a one or two sentence summary for each scene into an outline. Yes! I outline, but only after I have written the first draft.

As has been the case for awhile now, my keyboard was not cooperating, so somewhere in there I got a Mac Magic Keyboard and it’s working out just fine. This is a digression, but digressions happen all the time, taking writers out of the books they’re working on. Apple is correcting keyboard problems like mine for free right now, but I can’t let go of my machine while I’m working on this book. Thus the magic keyboard. It works just fine.

My revision is all over the place. I like to start revising at the beginning, because I’m linear that way. But once a month I had to go to the middle to grab a chapter for my critique group. Naturally I had to revise the hell out of that before I’d show it to them or they’d shred me like paper. And now I’ve got another group, and have to go back to the first chapter for them. Revision three of the first chapter. Revision zero for the second half of the book. That’s where I’m at.

So, yes, my revision is all over the place. I don’t do well with chaos for long. I like to bring it to order, sharpish. So when a writing friend told me about Jane Cleland’s Suspense, Structure and Plot the word structure made my hopes soar. When I found “Jane’s Plotting Road Map” on page 38 I knew I was on my way to getting this book into shape. The one page diagram about how to structure plot will save me so many steps.

I particularly like how Jane lays out the plot and subplots and gives you an approximate page number of where they should show up for maximum readability. It’s kind of like when I used to write romances and knew the consummation scene needed to be around page 100. First I needed to figure out my subplots. That was easy. I’d already written them. They’d been scattershot through the book with no regard to pacing or maximizing impact.

This isn’t the first time a book or a blog about plotting and structure has come to my rescue. I’ve used many through the years, but Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt served me well through several revisions. “Writing/Romance” Jennifer Crusie’s blog, written in 2015-2016, reads like a short course in writing and structuring a novel. She also answers writing questions on her Argh Ink blog on Mondays.

Just reading Jenny helps with the panic. And the truly Magic keyboard came to my rescue. And Jane’s road map. I was beginning to despair (because I’m a drama queen deep inside) but I just might finish this book by my December deadline after all.

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