The Magic of Structure

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It is unlikely to shock you to discover my first draft was a nightmare. Despite (maybe even because of) nearly a decade of writing, planning, rewriting, and adjusting, the first time I made it to the end was a mess. So much so, I actually scrapped the whole thing. Exactly ONE aspect remained: I wanted to write a story about shape shifters that would recontextualize myths and cryptids as we know them.
Everything else, I burned.
Figuratively, of course. We are in the digital era.
I put it all in a folder and hid that folder in the dark recesses of the internet.
After another two years of planning and rediscovering what was important to me, I crossed the finish line for the second time and even made it through three rounds of edits… before coming to terms with busted expectations. Not that the draft was bad. I knew it would be bad. I was crushed with the realization that I had no idea how to write an ending.
I had spent ten years piddling with the beginning, the inciting incident, the character development, individual scenes… but I had no practice with the holistic pacing of a story. My solution? Rush to a crumbling end because you don’t want to drag. Three guesses how that went.
Unclear pacing didn’t just lead to an unsatisfying and confusing conclusion, it led to failure to foreshadow, confusing magic systems, unclear relationships and motives, unconvincing emotional beats, and a whooooole lot of white-room syndrome.
This leads us to the present. As in, literally, February of 2021. (Whoops, I guess I’m posting this later than intended.)
Closely related to the silence on my blog and twitter, I walked away from my manuscript for a few months before finding a friend (hey, Rember!) who helped me really refocus my passion. Last week, I sat down and hammered out my pacing/structure. I thought I had been a planner before, but duuuude, was I wrong.
My theory had been brewing for a while; it’s a structure I’m sure isn’t completely original, but it took the “tactile” nature of personally putting everything together to finally click.
So I wanted to share.

Step 1: I had to face my fears of boring the reader with all the passion in my mind. Nothing I read online helped, and it’s hard to practice ending novels without… writing the novel.
I stepped back and revisited my outline, as well as my knowledge of industry standards for my age category and genre. The Tales of Drynic series is intended to be an adult fantasy series — putting the ideal word count between 80 and 100k. Knowing that my successful scenes range from 3-5k words, I did some math to establish that my goal was to plot approximately 30 scenes to use as chapters.

Step 2: Finally embracing how analytical I am, I reviewed some structural templates I really liked. I’m sure I’ve name-dropped her channel before, but Abbie Emmons has a fantastic structural outline accompanied by video breakdowns of each beat (highly recommend.) I keyed in on a specific story beat that set my story up to fall gracefully into place: the beat Abbie calls the “Game Changing Midpoint.”
Why here? Because this is where my initial drafts all fell apart. For starters, the current midpoint was at one point the climax of the story, meaning it had originally come very close to the end. No wonder I struggled to allow myself plenty of time to write a satisfying conclusion.

Step 3: I placed that sucker right where it belongs at chapter 16ish. I even came up with a cool name for it. Suddenly, I was inspired to name as many scenes as I could. Working from the inside out, I ordered the scenes and shuffled the story to feel balanced on either side of the midpoint. At the end of it all, I couldn’t decide if I was happy it was so simple… or frustrated I didn’t think of it sooner.

There it was, my new outline and my pacing savior.

Step 4: I like to keep things visually clear whenever possible. The three-act structure was too vague, and while I got a lot of inspiration from research, I needed something specific to me. Structures are templates and tools, not gospel. Taking what I knew about existing methods, I developed an alphabetical approach for easy access.
A = Addition. This is the beginning. The setup, introductions, an initial conflict, and the inciting incident. This encompasses about the first 6 chapters.
B= Battle(s). Welcome to the rising action. While every section must have conflict, tension, and stakes, the battles are two stand-out obstacles between the characters and their goal (two separate battles because it set up a symmetry I liked.) The two beats each take up about 4 chapters.
C = Change. Here’s that midpoint I was so excited about. Chapter 16.
D = Disaster. Many structures refer to this as a character’s point or the “belly of the whale.” Depending on where I split everything, beats C and D take up about ten chapters total.
E = Execution. This is the story’s climax. I call it execution to emphasize that this is the result — the ACTIVE RESULT — of everything I’ve put in place so far. All of the pieces come together for the fireworks, spanning about 3 chapters.
F = Finish. That leaves us with the wrap-up. The resolution of the story and a 2 chapter walk down from the drama..
For everyone counting, that is about 15 chapters in front of the midpoint and about 15 behind, keeping said midpoint pointy and in the middle.

After that, a whole world of possibilities opened up. Possibilities that I’ll share in my next post, along with some examples!


Until then, stay safe!
Rena Grace

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