Category Archives: Story Structure

Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!



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Foundations and Structure

… are what stop it falling down.

It might seem obvious but you’d be amazed how often something I critique is as flimsy as a house of cards.

 So the question is, can your work stand up to scrutiny?

The historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman talks about how she tackles truth in fiction, weaving together her tremendous historical knowledge (she has a PhD in history I believe) with the ‘stuff she makes up.’ But she rightly says of that, she makes sure the stories have a solid historical foundation before she weaves her worlds around that.

Everything we write needs a foundation, be it metaphorical, be it background as Sharon talks about, or be it the way you lay the first layers of the plot. The basis of story is conflict, but it has to be solid; your protagonist has to have a solid goal worth fighting for or the reader will ask themselves why they should care? So all of this is in the set-up of the character’s needs, flaws, passion and it needs to be credible.

When you tip the character over the threshold into their adventure we should be invested in that — we should ‘get it’ now and above all we should care enough to take the journey with them. And, if you have set the foundations well enough, it will hold.

But always remember to keep in mind what the character wants as this is the driver.

Coincidence, unless used as a specific theme or device that’s deliberate,  is not enough to motivate or cause action in fiction. If too many scenes are wrong place, right time, there just happens to be a policemen when you want one, the structure that now holds it together starts to crack.

I remember one of my tutors on my MA talking a lot about MOTIVATION FOR ACTION. All actions need basis. At the time I rather thought she was over-egging that, giving extra cause for action, surely people would just buy into the character in a moment of madness doing something out of character? But , NO. She was right. The seeds have to be there. And we have to know why a character acts as they do.

In other words, we have to believe a character’s actions or we start to question the premise and the premise is what makes a story.

I have been plotting and re-plotting Isle of Pelicans so many times because of this. How can I justify every action? Why would a young cop behave in a reckless manner? What would drive him to take the action he does for the plot? And this is where it’s about crafting together enough of his back story without sidelining the main event, but creating a credible enough motivation for action to drive the action and for, at no point, the reader to say, “Yeah, as if he’d do that.”

Sure we shout that at movies often, right? And it is fiction, but trust me, set the foundations right, make the reader believe in your character, in what they want and you will allow them to accept even when maybe ‘in real life’ it might not happen quite like that. But whenever you can, ask the credibility question and make sure it’s as watertight as it needs to be — don’t want any leaks now do we?

Have a great day.

House of cards

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Looking at Story Structure Part II

To end the week I will continue with my review of story structure based on Larry Brookes’s great book on Story Engineering. Yesterday we saw how he viewed a novel based on a 4-part structure which he visualised as boxes, containing scenes, and how he saw writing a novel like using building blocks, box 2 needed box 1 and so on.

So with the first box creating the set-up,we end with the first major plot point and now cross the threshold into the adventure — the transition point.

So set’s see what’s in box 2: We now know what this story is and where’s it’s heading, the premise has been established — who the hero is and what they want. And now we see the barriers — the antagonist, what is standing in the way of the goal.

The goal, Brookes says should be: survival, finding love, getting away from love gone bad, acquiring wealth, acquiring justice, stopping or catching the bad guys, preventing disaster, escaping danger, saving someone, saving the entire world or anything else in the realm of human experience and dreams.

Well that just about covers everything, right? But see how you must have this conflict or mission. And whatever the hero needs, something will always stand in the way.

Without conflict, you have no story.

In essence the second box is the RESPONSE.It’s how after set-up the hero responds to the FIRST MAJOR PLOT POINT.

The context of every scene is response — to the quest, the goal, stakes and obstacles introduced by the first plot point. And if you did everything right in box 1. the reader will care about the hero’s journey.

So in real terms box 2 is where you’ll find the hero running, analysing, observing, recalculating, planning, recruiting or whatever’s required to achieve the goal. Box 2 ends at about the midpoint with the next BIG PLOT POINT, it’s the just when the her has it all figured out … this happens moment.

I hope this is helpful, it’s really just another way of looking at story arc but I found his model interesting and so will continue with this next week!

Have a great weekend all!

Indeed ...

Indeed …



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