This week’s Writing Excuses podcast was a Q&A on story structure, talking about different approaches to structure and how to get the most out of them. This ‘pick the best bits’ approach fits well with the exercise they gave at the end:
Make a list of all the awesome things you want your story to accomplish. Then put them in the order in which you want them to happen.
As with the previous exercise about plotting with the beginning and end in mind, I’m going to use this exercise to help me develop a novella I’m planning, Sieges and Silverware. The fourth in a series, this sees Victorian adventurers Dirk Dynamo and Timothy Blaze-Simms arrive at a German castle in their pursuit of clues to the location of the Great Library. It’s 1871, Germany has just been unified, and the occupants of the castle are holding out against that unification. Major plotlines include a dispute with their former colleague Isabelle McNair, a siege of the castle, a mad scientist on the loose and some covert feminism in an age run by men.
Making it Easy for Myself
If I was working with pen and paper, I’d have to brainstorm all my ideas, then write them out again in order. Thanks to the magic of the digital age I can put them in order as I come up with them, and edit that order if I’m not happy with it. So what you’ll see is the end result.
Hooray for computers!
My list of awesome things, in order:
- Dirk getting lost in the crazy layout of the castle.
- A civilised dinner party in a building being bombarded by heavy artillery.
- A monster hunt through the darkness of the castle dungeons.
- An argument that addresses the problems for women in gaining influence in Victorian society.
- Blaze-Simms invents a bizarre steampunk defensive device.
- A small band of heroes fending off a massive assault.
- A discussion on the nature and value of nationalism.
- The discovery of a mad scientist’s laboratory.
- Ninjas vs Prussians.
- Dirk and Isabelle reconciling their differences well enough to work together again.
- A desperate airship or balloon flight from the castle as it is captured.
All the Cool Bits
Theoretically, I can see a lot of value in this exercise as a way of starting plotting without losing your enthusiasm for a project. It lets you focus on all the coolest things you want to write, and then turn those into something at least a bit coherent and useful.
But for me, in this instance, it’s proved less useful. I came up with a few interesting things, like the Carry on up the Khyber style dinner party. But whereas the first few volumes of this series were about throwing in lots of new cool ideas, by this point the story is about developing and paying off the stuff that’s already in there. I suspect that cool ideas will emerge from the structure, not the other way around.
It’s fitting with the discussion from the podcast. Not every approach to structure is for everyone, and you use the ones that suit you.
Did you try the exercise? How did you get on? And how do you go about structuring stories? Leave a comment, let me know what you think.