Last week I mused (heh, no, not that Muse 🙂 ) about story structure, how I saw the structure in the book I finished reading, and how it made me think about the structure of my own project, creatively called “Book 2”.
I am “old fashioned” in the sense that I prefer to review/revise on paper (and no, I’m not THAT old, or fashionable). I think it has to do with screen time (a full-time job as a tech writer means 8 hrs a day in front of a computer screen to begin with), as well as the whole effect of writing “longhand”. Reading on paper is different than reading on a screen. So I printed out my draft and worked through it page by page, scene by scene, with the recent refresh of story structure in mind.
Of course, plot tweaks make their way into my notes, as do questions about motives and characters, all par for the course during revisions. Refining characters means making sure their goals and their obstacles make sense. Sometimes their motivations change. Case in point: my primary antagonist started out with greed as a motivation. Now, after two revisions and the question of “What’s in it for her?”, her motivation has shifted from greed to more of a public service. In other words, I remembered something I heard or read about antagonists, namely villians: they are the heroes of their own stories.
That adds another dimension to that character. There were hints of it already in the story, but when my subconscious finally got around to shouting the reminder, things fell into place around that character. Switching over to the protagonist, the question shifts to: What does she have to lose? As we writers know, the more the protagonist has to lose, the more the reader will root for them, right? This resulted in more notes about her story goals and the “what ifs” that go into the things that prevent her from reaching those goals.
Then, since it’s a mystery, not only do there have to be clues, there have to be false clues and enough suspects so the reader doesn’t figure things out too quickly. We like to call these “red herrings”, even though herring is more gray and white and tastes really good pickled, especially with saltine crackers 🙂 . After I listed my suspects, I realized I didn’t have enough red in my herring, so a note to add a false lead or three.
Getting back to the story structure itself, in the middle part of the story, there should be a black moment or an “all is lost” moment, where it looks like the obstacles in the character’s way seem too big to conquer. In the book I read, it was a point (and I realized this later, when my writer’s subconscious slapped me up the side of the head and yelled in my ear) when the main character stopped moving toward the resolution of the main mystery thread of the story.
As I went through my draft, I realized that even though there is moment where it looks like it’s going to be a LOT harder for the character to reach her goal, it wasn’t dark enough or difficult enough for her to continue. Note to self: figure out what would make her stop moving toward her goal.
And all these notes on how to make the story better were spawned, in part, by reading that book and seeing how the story was structured. It reminded me of all those things my writing teacher has been saying. I think sometimes it takes us a while (at least it takes me a while 🙂 ) to see how the story should work.
Getting back to revising, fleshing things out, and refining the story. Sometimes, especially with this book, I wish I could skip all the false starts and get to the bare skeleton of the story sooner, so I can put that energy toward refining the story, but I’ve learned that for me, it’s the way my subconscious writer brain tells my conscious writer brain which direction to go. Either that, or my Muse is working some seriously-annoying Muse magic to try to teach me something. Or he’s just being annoying. I wouldn’t put either past him.
Now, back to revising!