1. nick820

    nick820 New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2012
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    3

    I’m unsure of how to structure a novel

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by nick820, Jun 30, 2020.

    I usually have a lot of ideas about characters, plot, how I want the story to start, how I want it to end, etc. But those individual scenes that “move the plot along”, it’s hard for me to figure out what those specific scenes should be, WHEN the scene should happen in the story, and WHERE the scene should take place. Then you have to factor in WHO is in what scene, who needs to be in this scene or that scene, etc. Like...there’s so many options. I’m a big picture person, like I can see an entire story at once in my head and write 10 pages that covers it, but dealing with the details has never been a strong suit of mine so evolving that 10 page story to a 300 page narrative...it’s so overwhelming to me. Short stories are my comfort zone, but I don’t want to rely on that. I just have no idea how to construct a novel. Every scene I would come up with outside of the things I already have in my head automatically to tell the story (enough for a shot story basically) feel like “filler scenes”, like they don’t need to be there. And I’m bad at “making up” those types of scenes to “move the story along” and pad things out. It feels forced.

    I’ll take any and all advice, personal advice, YouTube recommendations, etc, whatever advice you can give me. Thanks.
     
    Richach and jannert like this.
  2. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2015
    Messages:
    783
    Likes Received:
    807
    First problem that you have is that you're expecting that you'll get it right on the first draft. Well, good luck, because no one has actually been able to do that. Ever. Some of us have been able to create something decent, dare I say so myself, but never perfect and certainly not anything I would ever publish. Every writer has added unnecessary scenes and have often told more than they showed. Which is fine, because that's why we have rewrites. You don't get it right the first time, rewrite it.

    The second thing is that you do have to know what you want to say. That will tell you what scenes are necessary in order to say it. Now, you don't have to decide right in the beginning what you want to say. Remember, how I say that you have all those rewrites? That's where you can figure out what to do and how to do it.
     
    Rzero, Richach, jannert and 1 other person like this.
  3. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2018
    Messages:
    835
    Likes Received:
    831
    Location:
    Norwich, UK
    One thing I noticed was how different short stories and novels are to write and sometimes starting with short stories doesn't actually help as it put you into a different mind set. Short stories are more like a quick fix.
    My first advice would be to stop worrying about it. It's not set in stone, it doesn't have to be right the first time and you can move those scenes around once the whole thing is written. Most people who don't even have the problem you have still have to re-think the position the scene is in. You can also think of each chapter as it's own short story so if that's your comfort zone and to avoid feeling intimidated, try writing each chapter as if it were it's own mini story. And remember what you're writing about is one event in a persons life. It may only be a week, month or year of their life so they don't need to have everything by the end of the novel. Don't think about getting to the end of the novel, just write each chapter. The problem with planning in depth is that can causes you to over think everything sometimes. And if the first draft is a disaster that's fine. You can fix it.
     
    jannert likes this.
  4. Larro

    Larro Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2020
    Messages:
    90
    Likes Received:
    159
    Location:
    Bed
    I am in no way experienced and have my own first novel struggles but here's my tuppence worth anyway. I run my story through my head like it's a multiple episode series for TV. Each episode is a chapter and has its own purpose - introducing a character, developing characters, an inciting incident, a reveal, etc. - and each one ends leaving the viewer/reader on an uncertain note so they will want to know more. How much time does your story span? My plot takes place over (an eventful) two weeks, so I have my start point, my end point, and fourteen days in between to get my MC from beginning to end, so I ask myself, 'What happens in that time?' In my case, each of my chapters takes place over a day / half a day / a morning / an evening - one chapter might focus around an encounter / a party / a conversation, etc., but each one has to have a purpose in the story. If your story spans a year or more, you could break your story down into chunks of time. Where does my MC need to be and when? Tease your reader. Don't give everything away too quickly. The reader needs to be invested in your characters so spend a bit of time making them likeable/interesting. You could also start out by writing a synopsis of the story and list ten significant things that happen throughout and expand on those. Some of the best books I've read could be summed up in a line but it's the journey you go on with the character that makes it so good, not just a twist or a good idea, and the journey takes time. Saying all that, I have no idea what I'm doing so please take it with a pinch of salt :D
     
    jannert likes this.
  5. Larro

    Larro Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2020
    Messages:
    90
    Likes Received:
    159
    Location:
    Bed
    P.S. I find the magnificent art of short story writing baffling and I am in awe of anyone who can do it.
     
    jannert likes this.
  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    4,619
    Likes Received:
    5,997
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    You might want to look up a few different story structure approaches to get some ideas.
     
    marshipan likes this.
  7. GraceLikePain

    GraceLikePain Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2020
    Messages:
    486
    Likes Received:
    495
    Wow...yeah, short stories and novels are completely different beasts. A person is generally better at one or other other -- it's not a matter of short story people going longer, or novel people just stopping sooner.

    Quite frankly, I think the whole short story thing is an advantage for you, because it means you can make your point quicker and more eloquently. I ramble on (see: the avatar) like a train on a track, because no matter how much I write, there's always more that I could say. So I don't think you need to get caught up too much in structure.

    Ramble time!

    Okay, so the way I see it, there are three aspects to story. Plot, characters, and world. All three of these are ways to generate ideas for a longer story. You say you come to conclusions quickly, and that's good. Don't stretch out your plots because that's your skill, and you shouldn't be ashamed of it. However, instead of stopping the story, think about what other problems you can give the characters. You know how to solve a particular puzzle, but what if something interferes with their conflict resolution? A person backs out of helping them, or their necessary tools break, or their girlfriend steals the car and runs off? Alternatively, have solving problem 1 lead the MC into solving problem 2. Or have problem 1 cause problem 2. Or have it cause problems 3, 4, and 5. In short, the plot way to solve your problem is to give your MC problems.

    The character way to solve it is to really dwell with your characters. Who are they, what do they want, how good are they at going after what they want? Maybe have someone do something for unclear reasons and give them a twist reveal. Maybe just do more slice of life work. Or introduce more characters who alter the MC's perceptions. The world way I think might be best for you. Okay, so you're onto the short story thing, so why not have a bunch of short stories set in a particular world, and each story brings about new information about that world? This works best in fantasy and science fiction settings, or just any kind of setting a reader isn't generally going to be familiar with. Or you can do a generational story with a short story for each generation.

    Honestly, if I were you I wouldn't stress too much. Just figure out what you want to say, how to say it, and what publication form would be best for your work. Don't force yourself to write something you don't like. I recommend reading Watership Down, because not only is it good, it's a good example of lining up problems with new problems. I don't want to spoil it for you, but essentially the solution to each problem the rabbits encounter brings with it new problems, all without making the story feel like it has filler or being emotionally sappy.
     
  8. Damage718

    Damage718 Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2019
    Messages:
    250
    Likes Received:
    143
    Location:
    Joliet, IL
    I've never written a novel-length story, but have done a lot of fairly long short stories -- my current WIP is a collection of them. In large part because I have a similar concern you do re: length/detail/importance of the plot and setting, etc.

    But, and I could be a bit off-base here, I liken any story writing to a roadmap. You have your starting point and your destination (which you said you are good at having), but there are multiple ways to arrive where you want to go, and not all of them are visible right away. Try different routes and find out which works best for you. Like other posts have said, you'll never nail it the first time.

    So if you have a good idea of how to begin and end a story, and can write the basics of it, then start there. Then, go back and fill in the gaps, expand scenes, add dialogue, etc. Don't worry about if it's all filler/fluff...as you revise, you'll see what works and what moves the story along and what doesn't. In fact, it can be during those stages where you'll "discover" new characters and scenes...and that's a cool feeling.

    Try not to fret about finding the perfect structure strategy right away -- we ALL do it differently. It's not an exact science.
     
    jannert likes this.
  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,546
    Likes Received:
    19,572
    Location:
    Scotland
    I like what everybody has said here. My two cents' worth is to say, just get going. Keep in mind that you're not just casually telling somebody 'what happened.' You want your reader to BE THERE. So take your time with your scenes.

    Get yourself fully immersed and concentrate on your own emotional reaction to the scenes as you write them. Get them fully visualised in your head, so you find it easy to describe exactly what's happening, the characters themselves, their emotional and mental state, the setting, the general tone of what's going on, etc. You don't have to actually describe everything (in fact, it's probably not a good idea to try) but make sure YOU know exactly what the scene contains ...so if you need to describe something to get the readers on board, you can.

    What do you want each scene to accomplish? Be specific. 'I want to move the story forward' isn't specific enough. Instead, make yourself aware of what you want that scene to actually DO.

    You want to introduce a character to another character—and let us readers know what each character's first impression is? You want to make us readers realise what a character's ulterior motive might be? Make us fall in love with a character? Make us begin to dislike a character? Install worry in the reader about what's likely to happen next if the characters keep doing what they're doing now? Make us realise that this new character has a previous connection with the other characters? Make us understand why the character feels the way he does about a past event?

    Focus each scene on what its specific purpose is—what you want that particular scene to DO. And make that happen. Your scenes won't be filler scenes if they have a purpose—so make sure you know what that purpose is before you start writing it. They don't have to be part of a Grand Pre-Planned Plot. Just do this focusing scene-by-scene, as you write, and go where they take you.

    Don't worry at all about going off track, or writing scenes that might not end up staying in the story. Every scene you write makes YOU understand your story better. So don't be afraid to explore around. Nothing is set in stone until you publish (and don't be in too big a rush to do that.)

    Once you've finished the story, you can look at the structure. You can combine scenes, leave scenes out, write new bridging scenes, tweak the scene so their purpose is stronger, etc. You might discover the story has evolved a lot from when you first started writing it. Characters you thought might be minor have grown to major importance. A relationship you envisioned as lasting might actually feel uncomfortable or transient. It might turn out that your main character has a slightly different goal than what you originally thought. Don't worry. You can go back and tweak whatever needs revision, so it works.

    I suppose once you've got several novels under your belt, the structure becomes more automatic. But for a beginner, it's more important to get the story out there ...fully fleshed. Not just a plot summary. Better to over-write than under-write at this stage. Give yourself lots to work with. NONE of this is wasted time.
     
    Xoic, Room with a view and Larro like this.
  10. Richach

    Richach Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2019
    Messages:
    587
    Likes Received:
    636
    Location:
    Birmingham Uk
    You say you are a big picture kinda person. Me too, but it is still possible to get sucked into the detail. (p.o.v, show vs tell all the regular stuff) Remember to keep such details at arm's length as it is a natural inclination to immerse oneself and not see the wood for the trees! Remember to take a step back and keep an objective distance.

    I have posted this link before but it really helped me. The author gives clear boundaries and objectives per chapter. He does not go off on tangents like so many YouTubers. You make not agree with his method, but at least he has one and this might be the start of you putting your own methods in place to make you objective and productive. Good luck!

     
    jannert and Larro like this.
  11. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2013
    Messages:
    1,417
    Likes Received:
    3,626
    Location:
    Texas
    I had to follow a story structure outline for the first couple novels and still sometimes go back to it when I'm having a hard time in certain acts. It really helps to study story structure instead of just doing guesswork and relying on your subconscious understanding of stories. At least, for me that was the case. Look up four and three act novel structure. If you write a specific genre you can likely find a more specific breakdown fo what the typical story follows. There is also the book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody.
     
    Xoic likes this.
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    4,238
    I credit reading for the reason I'm pretty good with structure. Reading more novels will help sort in ingrain standard or different ways to structure a novel. Read with an eye on structure now if that's your biggest problem. Honestly, I'm not sure there is anything else that will really help the same way.
     
  13. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2018
    Messages:
    1,378
    Likes Received:
    2,441
    Location:
    Texas
    In my meager experience, there's a big difference between an idea for a short and an idea for a novel. If you can tell the who thing in ten pages, as you mentioned, it's probably going to be difficult, if not impossible, to stretch it to 300. It's been done, of course. There are several notable works out there that are extensions of short stories, Ender's Game, for instance. That's seriously hard to do though.

    It sounds like you start with concept, which is exactly what I do, and most of the time, I outline. It doesn't take me long in the outline process to know what I have on my hands, a short, a novella, etc. There's already much better advice in this thread than I could give you about structure, but I would say before you worry about structure, keep working on those story ideas until you have something with enough meat for a novel. If you're not sure, do a full story treatment. If you can give an overview of chapter after chapter, you've probably got something. It doesn't have to be perfect either. Even an unevenly paced disaster with flat characters and some bad filler will work as a starting point, as long as it's enough story for a novel. Then you can worry about structure and pacing and character and etc., etc.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice