Structural Scales

Writing Advice

Last week, I talked a bit about my process when coming up with a structural system that fit my story. I highly recommend checking that blog out before diving into this one.

As a refresher, last week, I shared an alphabetical system that I created to help pace my story. Those beats were:
Addition: the beginning.
Battle: the first conflict.
Battle 2: the electric boogaloo.
Change: the midpoint revelation.
Disaster: the lowest moment.
Execution: the climactic confrontation.
Finale: the story wrap-up.

With these landmarks in mind, I was able to easily plot all of the major story beats to define EXACTLY where I was rushing through my story. But the longer I looked, the more I saw a pattern.
I know I’m not the first person to reuse structure at multiple scales, but the analyst in me could only truly appreciate this concept after I stopped trying to shoehorn my manuscript into someone else’s structural model.

In the largest context, the whole story follows seven overarching Story Beats: A, B, B, C, D, E, F. Let’s call those ‘big beats.’
At the next scale down, there is a similar breakdown within each big beat. This makes sense to me when considering that the structure was created to solve a pacing problem. But more than a numeric pattern, my chapters started to look rhythmic.
For example, within my ‘Addition’ plotpoint, I recognized it had its own plot. The first scene “added” by introducing the reader to the world and a bit of the magic. The second introduces the first subplot — the first ‘battle.’ The third chapter sets up the main plot — the second ‘battle.’ Chapter four marks the first “change” (plot twist) when the protagonist discovers that she will be spending this adventure with her estranged sister. This leads to the “disaster” of their first conversation, then the “execution” of progressing the story to the next big beat. Because of their actions, the characters are led to the “addition” of new members and new information, and the cycle of minis restarts in the first “battle.”

Different from the full structure, the ‘minis’ don’t complete full loops. And there’s a simple reason why: the story isn’t over. In most modern writing, problems aren’t solved until the end, and each action causes new complications, even when executed flawlessly. The finale is exactly that: the finish. I don’t want my readers feeling like I already absolved the problem they were most invested in. I want them to see how it all ties together in the end.

The mini changes, disasters, and executions lead directly into new additions and new battles up until the very end. Without the continuity, the story runs the risk of feeling scatterbrained and loosely related. Using the “minis” gives building blocks and footholds so that I know that each plot point adds value to the overall narrative. From the first battle to the last, each event has a connection to the next. Without the previous events, the story cannot progress.

Of course, my analytical mind encouraged the instinct to mimic and close the mini loops. That actually led me to a concern with this structure (maybe even my underlying problem of structure as a whole) — I want to keep this model from becoming a mold. If an overarching beat only has one mini battle, so be it. If the plan falls apart in the mini disaster, then that big beat doesn’t get a mini execution. Imagine how monotonous the writing would feel if you as a reader noticed a seven-chapter cyclical pattern.
Building this idea for myself taught me a lot about its weaknesses as it’s strengths.

To close out this session of ‘Rena thinking out loud’, I want to repeat that this structure evolved from a complicated circumstance: I am aware that I am an overwrite, and therefore forced myself to underwrite the first draft. I pigeon-holed myself so deep that I didn’t have the confidence to ground myself again. Obviously, I can’t know until the end, but I designed this method of thinking to be the first step in finding a balanced way of writing.
This blog really wasn’t meant as advice as much as just sharing my own process, but if there’s one takeaway it’s that you cannot improve unless you fail MISERABLY. At least that’s what happened to me.

Kind of a short post, but, hey, no reason to keep talking when there’s nothing to add.
Anyway, I hope everyone has a great week.
Stay safe,
Rena Grace