Posts Tagged ‘narrative structure’

A few weeks ago I told you that I registered for a number of writing courses, to bring me back into a more structured way of thinking about writing.

I have completed the first one, which focussed on plot, and it was both extremely interesting and slightly perturbing.

I try to take in all the rules and suggestions but sometimes I struggle to see writing as an academic exercise.  I wonder why we have so many rules in place for our work, creating artificial barriers and sections, when many of the most successful and prolific writers we read never once went to a lecture on narrative structure!

Still, it makes me think a little more about what a publisher is looking for, and there is definitely a structure which is considered less ‘risky’.

My first novel does not fit this, or at least it doesn’t cleanly fit it.  I debate the benefit of trying to force my story into a new structure simply to meet some short-hand standard, and I don’t know that I want to edit with that standard in mind.

However, for future works this is a good way to manage the planning and plotting process.

The benefit of rules in writing is that they provide the foundations on which to hang the clothes of your story. There is a controlling element that can be utilised to pull you back into line or show you where there is room for growth.

Rules are the corsetry of your story.

Some writers are confident and skilled enough go be free but at this point, with the writing market as it is and the unwillingness of agents to take on first time writers, rules make sense to get past the first hurdle and at least be read.

Interestingly though, the rules I am learning now are not those I was taught before – in a relatively short space of time the focus of writing has changed.  I am not sure if that is partly to do with the audience – my first course was via a UK university, the current courses are via a US university – or if the writing market really has changed so much in a few years.

I have been told that agents are moving out of fiction into non-fiction, read that unknown authors are too high risk for significant numbers to be taken on, and that the amount people can expect to earn from their writing is diminishing.  It would not surprise me at all to learn that agents look for a specific structure in the work they receive because they have to limit their own risk.

I wonder if it’s true that a reader will be dissatisfied if the rules aren’t followed, as is the message.  I need to read with the rules in mind, see how they affect my experience of a story.

Mostly though, I need to understand them fully because unless I do, I won’t know whether to risk breaking them!

Happy writing,





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It’s the last day of my break now and I’m a little sad that I am back to work tomorrow. It’s been very restful even with going away for a few days but tomorrow it’ll all go back to normal.

I have to admit Fred hasn’t travelled much with me, and is languishing somewhere near Stonehenge but I have been reading about plot and structure as well as tackling some novels. I wasn’t going to read them but sitting down with a coffee on a squishy chair isn’t as relaxing when you’re reading a text book…

I am about to start re-reading the plot and structure book because it is filled with exercises I want to try out, but that is for next week’s post!

It’s been a useful exercise to revisit some basics though. When I write I tend to fall into certain patterns and behaviours, and the book should help with stripping out the bad behaviours and focussing on a cleaner, more precise, narrative flow.

As importantly, it gives me tools to check the narrative itself – specifically whether it is strong enough to be the foundation of a novel. That is a discipline I need to work on, now more than ever due to my restricted writing time.

The other thing I have been doing is getting back to photography. I went to a couple of Medieval religious buildings and duly paid for photography permits so I could at least attempt to record some of what I saw.

At it was Remembrance Day on the 11 November the buildings were dressed with poppies, which is always a poignant reminder of how history shapes our experience of life, especially when is buildings that have stood for so long.

The last couple of weeks have definitely been more about theory than practice, but I don’t think that is a bad thing for me. I just have to remember that Fred needs a bit of an outing too!

Happy Writing,

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…Or focussed versus whole-of-scene narratives.

Whenever you write, you make a decision about how the reader experiences your work. Do you want to write in first, second or third person, do you want an unreliable narrator, do you want an omniscient narrator?

Your decisions may be deeply considered or a gut reaction; you may change your mind as the piece develops. You may even experiment with multiple approaches in one piece.

The aperture approach, as I call it, is like a camera lens: you focus on one part of the story to present.  You see only what a particular character sees, experience the events through a specific pair of eyes.  It’s a little like torchlight; your attention shines on only one thing, and the rest is unseen and therefore unknown.

The all-seeing eye is the omniscient narrator, the one who can describe the feelings of each character in detail, and is party to all events.  This is more like a floodlit room, where there’s no chance for things to hide in corners.

I think the choice is entirely dependent on the story.  My first novel had four viewpoint characters and each character shared only what they experienced; the four characters together gave a fuller picture.  My second is very much based on what one character sees and feels, allowing me to explore a collapse from an external viewpoint.

I haven’t tried unreliable narrator in novels, but I have in writing exercises, and it’s very useful when exploring ‘shady’ characters – characters who you don’t want to reveal too early on, or those whose motivations are suspect.

This article is a quick reminder of first, second and third person (and a reminder I often write my blog in a mix of first and second person which is very naughty!) and here’s a whole lot of basic information on narrative options that’s worth considering if you’re not sure which way to go with your manuscript.

Good luck and happy writing,



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