Structure and Plotting

Structure is the underlying foundation of a story that makes your reader want to keep reading. It's as important in memoirs as it is in fiction.

  • Productivity,  Structure and Plotting

    What Were You Thinking???

    More often than not, when writers start writing about a subject, we have no clue what it is we plan to say.    “I write to find out what I think.” ― Stephen King   “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” — Joan Didion Sure, we can put together an outline that gives us a rough roadmap, but until we actually sit down and start the ideation process, we can’t possibly know what our thoughts are until we have them on the page or screen in front of us. Only…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

    Coincidence

    Deus Ex Machina Last week’s post pointed out that little coincidental changes can alter the entire trajectory of a story. But at what point does coincidence become “deus ex machina” — defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel”?   The key here is the word “contrived”. Last week, I said, “Our lives hinge on these coincidences.”   But herein lies a problem for writers. We can’t use them. We can’t dump a convenient coincidence into our story whenever we need something to change. We can’t simply insert a character or…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

    Change It Up!

    This article comes out of a conversation I had with a writer who couldn’t decide what should go into two related scenes:   Dor: I’ve got two scenes fighting with each other. So not nice! Bev: What’s the key point in each scene? How can you differentiate the scenes to accentuate the point? Dor: It’s a sequence of two scenes as a big storm is about to hit. So I’m mostly combing for timeline consistency. Two characters, one makes a suggestion and the other resists. Then in the second scene (a few beats later in the time line) the other character takes the bait and goes overboard with the suggestion.…

  • Creative Writing,  Organization and Research,  Point of View and Character Development,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

    Cause and Effect

    One of the most effective ways to create a compelling plotline with a strong narrative drive is to make sure your cause and effect chain remains unbroken.   What do I mean by the cause and effect chain?   In stories, as in life, things happen because other things happen. If you fall down, you skin your knee. Your knee would not be injured if you hadn’t fallen down. That’s cause and effect.   In stories, cause and effect are a kind of glue that holds your story together. Without it, your story is merely a collection of random incidents and your reader eventually becomes bored because things happen for…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Theme, Purpose and Outcome,  Training, Lessons

    Think Big, But Write Small

    There’s an overall shape to a book-length story that we’ve come to expect — certain elements fall into certain places at certain times during the course of the story, and we’ve learned, even if subconsciously, to anticipate this underlying structure.     Everything in a story is connected. Think of your book as a fractal. This may help you stay on track with the multitude of ideas and abstract concepts that go into a book that’s as introspective as a memoir.   Six Elements 1. Story — A memoir is a story built around one main idea, theme or point.    2. Chapters — Within a story, there may be…

  • Creative Writing,  Organization and Research,  Structure and Plotting

    Fish-heads and Hooks

    What’s a fish-head and what does it have to do with writing?   I heard this term from an author friend who heard it from her first writing teacher, forty years ago. This teacher used the metaphor of a fish-head to warn her students about a common situation that happens when a writer’s in the earliest stages of creating a story.    She said writers often begin writing a scene, thinking it’s the start, but it’s not in fact, the true beginning of the story. Instead, the fish-head is the scene or scenes that the writer needs to write first, to begin bringing the story into focus. You have to…

  • Creative Writing,  Memoirs,  Organization and Research,  Productivity,  Structure and Plotting

    Autobiography vs. Memoir

    What’s the Difference? Autobiography?  Biography?  Memoir?  Story?  Creative Non-Fiction? Personal Essay?  All too often, when a writer decides to “write their memoirs”, they are thinking about an autobiography — the story of their entire lifetime. Calling it a memoir is a misnomer.   Autobiographies and Memoirs are not the same. So, what is the difference?   Autobiography “Auto”, from the Latin, means “self”. “Bio” means “life”. So an autobiography is your own life story written by yourself.   A Biography, on the other hand, is a life story written by someone else, like a ghostwriter. “Bi” meaning two or dual.     An Autobiography is an author’s complete life story,…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Theme, Purpose and Outcome

    Writers! Stay On Topic!

    How often have you started off writing a memoir, an article, a blog post, chapter or scene and found yourself wandering off-topic, down a fascinating rabbit hole, or chasing squirrels? Your story gets off-track and lost in a muddle of ideas. You end up frustrated and discouraged because the piece is nowhere near as dynamic and insightful as it appeared when the ideas first occurred to you.   It’s easy to do when you’re in Flow, the ideas spilling out faster than you can keep up with them and you feel like a conduit for an unending outpouring of inspiration.  You don’t want to leave out even one of these…

  • Creative Writing,  Structure and Plotting,  Theme, Purpose and Outcome,  Training, Lessons

    The Joy of Structure

    When we first begin writing our memoirs, more often than not, it’s dull. Boring. A recitation of the facts of our life. Devoid of emotion. A bland telling of the stuff that happened without any of the emotional involvement that makes a story great. Meh!   And that’s totally okay.    First drafts are supposed to be a dull recitation of plot, without all the bells and whistles that make a story come alive for the reader. First drafts are meant to get the ideas out of your head and down on paper or screen so you can do something with them. It’s only as we revise and revise and revise…

  • Creative Writing,  Memoirs,  Structure and Plotting

    Riding the Razor’s Edge

    Recently a writer asked me this question:   “How can I turn my ideas into fiction? My short stories tend to be small slice-of-life sorts of things.”   This is something that I often run into in workshops and classes. People tell me they only write about true events. They don’t know how to stretch their imaginations to turn facts into stories. They’ve never learned the infinite possibilities behind that magical phrase, “What if?”   To turn ideas into fiction, take your true-to-life story elements and take them as far into what-if as possible.   The key to making a true story fictional is exaggeration. Make the events bigger than…