As I learned and grew as a writer, I went back over and over my novel to add more layers to it. In this series I’m writing about each of my ‘layers’ in the hope it will help someone who is starting out. This week we finish by looking at structure.
Of course, structure is really the foundation of the novel, on which all of the other layers are built. The reason I’ve only mentioned it now, at the end of my series, is because it has just jumped up and demanded my attention.
My first science fiction novel was finished, edited and polished. I sent it out to beta readers with instructions to mark wherever their reading was interrupted by a problem, and a list of questions to answer afterwards. Two of the things highlighted were structural problems.
One of my subplots was interfering with the main action, and there was a major problem with my ending that I didn’t know how to fix. When you live with a book for a long time, you get too close to see it objectively. I hadn’t even noticed the problems, it took my beta readers to see them.
Maybe that’s because I have grown the novel in these layers that I’m writing about. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t planned at all! The planning I’ve done has all been later on, trying to sort the novel out. (In case you’re wondering, I did work out how to fix the problems.)
There are lots of schemes for how to structure your novel. The favourite is the Three Act Structure, like a play. In Act One you put the start of the excitement and end with a major setback or crisis. In Act Two there are one or more setbacks. In Act Three the hero overcomes the final do-or-die crisis and the story is resolved.
Without structure your novel will meander about, and will fail to grab readers so they keep reading. If you are a writer who writes ‘by the seat of their pants’ you still need structure in your novel, even if you work on it after the first draft, as I did.