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Jul 3, 2010

How I Structure Books

I'm strict about the structure of my books. I tend to write too much, so I limit my number of available chapters as a way to limit my word count. I cheat, at times, by sticking 7,000 words into a chapter that's supposed to only be 5,000, but if I start to have a chapter with a 9,000 or 10,000 word count, I know something HAS to go. If I can't cut the scenes there, I have to cut in a chapter before or after and shift scenes up or down.

That's the bare bones of the book structure. Muscling over the bones, I also have a plot/character structure. In addition to the main plotline, which is Dindi's, I give a different set of secondary characters their own plotline in each book. In Book 1, the secondary characters were the widow Brena, her love interest villain-hero Rthan, and her hypocondriac daughter, Gwenika.

In Book 2, the secondary characters are Kemla and Tamio, who are scheming together, à la Les Liaisons dangereuses, against Dindi, and Finnadro, who wields the Singing Bow.

Each book also has its own series of "flashbacks"; these aren't really flashbacks, but a third major plotline told out of chronological order to the rest of the story. In Book 1, that plotline followed something that happened twenty years ago to a mysterious girl called the Corn Maiden, which Dindi discovers through ongoing Visions throughout the story. Of course, the events of the past turn out to be critical to her story as well.

In Book 2, a major villain is introduced, and he searches out Visions that will ultimately lead him to kidnap Dindi.


Ban said...

Again, I am in awe of your ability to structure your stories - you've just got SOOOOO much going on. What a shame most people who read your work won't 'see' all the layers. Then again, one doesn't always need to know how the car works to appreciate its performance.

Tara Maya said...

You're far too kind, Ban. I don't know that this structure improves the story from the point of view of the reader. Unlike the layers that Michelle talks about, which add all sorts of literary depth to a story, the structure I'm talking about mainly helps me, the author, keep track of what the heck I'm doing. :)

I have seen authors who do make the structure of the story interact meaningfully with the theme of the story. For instance, The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin is a science fiction story about a physicist who discovers how to make spacetime both simultaneous and sequential.

Two plotlines alternate in the book: One shows his childhood and growing disillusion with his homeworld, culminating in his decision to leave home; the other shows his arrival on a new world, followed by his growing disillusion and decision to return home. The juxtaposition results in the eerie sensation for the reader that the two different chronologies are both simultaneous and sequential. The end of the book encompasses both his departure and his return from/to his home.

It's beautifully done. Sigh. If only I could write that well....

Anita said...

That's really cool. I start with a rough scene outline that includes a lot of questions...what if she did this, what if he did that? Then I hammer away, stopping every so often to re-do the outline according to any brainstorms I've had. Not the best approach, but it's what I do.