New York Times  Bestselling Author

Structure

structure.jpg

Tomorrow I begin the outline for my current, as yet untitled, WIP (Work in Progress). I’m excited and nervous. Excited because I’m embarking on a new story with new characters, and nervous for the same reason. When you have the unknown stretched out in front of you–along with a deadline that’s mere months away (August)–it can be daunting. But I’m going to take it one step at a time. 

As those of you who follow my blog know, I completed the revised, twenty-seven page synopsis last week.  The outline will be considerably longer, but there are a few things I need to determine before I can start breaking the story down into scenes. Primarily, I need to decide on points of view, whether to use first or third person, and structure.

Point of view: I’ve already figured out that I’ll have two points of view. These are the thirtysomething sisters, currently named Maya and Rebecca.

First or third: Right now, I believe both of their stories will be told in third person. That’s the way the story is coming to me at the moment, but I know from experience that may change.

Structure: This is my biggest challenge right now. I need to determine the best way to tell the story. For example, in Before the Storm, I began with several chapters in the present and then began adding chapters from the past, slowly letting the reader in on the secrets from the past that shed light on what was happening in the current day.  That’s often the structure I use in my books. In The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, the first chapter is in the present from Cory’s point of view, followed by CeeCee’s story in the past. Her story is told chronologically (unusual for me), with some leaps during which the years are compressed. Added to the structure are some short letters from CeeCee’s mother. ( Letting you in on a very minor regret, if I had CeeCee to write over, I would have skipped that first chapter from Cory’s point of view. I think it gave away a tiny bit too much.)

In my WIP, there’s a very strong backstory that informs the present-day story. I don’t think I can interweave the past with the present as I did in Before the Storm, though, because the reader is going to need to know exactly what happened in the past very early in the present day story. There won’t be much time for all that weaving.

Ironically, as I was stewing about how to approach this, I realized that the very book I’ve been reading before sleep each evening offered a possible solution. I just finished Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders (loved it!), and while the book is nothing at all like my WIP, I think its structure might work very well for my story. Brooks divides the book into three sections. The first is called Leaf Fall, 1666 and is one short chapter set in the present. The second section is called Spring, 1665, in which she takes us through the events of the preceding year until we reach the third section, again called Leaf Fall, 1666, when we’re returned to the present. This is the structure I’m going to play with for my WIP. Start in the present, quickly move to the past and allow the past to lead directly back to the present again. I’ll let you know if it works.

For now, it’s off to bed so I can get cracking on this in the morning.  

 

 

21 Comments

  1. Denise on January 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Diane, when you wrote your first book, did you approach it in the same organized manner that you now approach your writing? If not, how did you write it and when/how did you become so organized in your present approach?

  2. Margo on January 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    I love that you are giving us a little ‘peek’ into the new WIP Diane. I love reading about this process. I can just picture your dining room table right now with all the color cards, notes, papers and tape! Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that’s whats going on in your world right now, right? (-O:

  3. Diane Chamberlain on January 12, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Denise, no, I was totally disorganized when I wrote my first book. I knew nothing about the process of writing fiction. I want to add, though, that everyone’s process is different, so when I share my own, I’m not saying that my way is the “right” way. Just my way. I learned to write from an outline with my third book, which is my first truly complex story. I realized then that it’s impossible to turn out a complicated story in a timely fashion without some sort of game plan.
    You’re almost right, Margo. LOL. I’m making the notecards now, and in a couple of days, I’ll move them to the dining room table. I’m probably a couple of weeks from the “taping them all together” phase. No dinner guests for a while!

  4. Margo on January 13, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Diane, remember the pic you shared with us about a year ago…John took it and you were covered with your color cards, notes, tape etc to give us an idea of your next step after the outline…I bet new bloggers would love to see it. I still have a mental picture of that photo…if I recall, you were head to toe in paper! (-O:

  5. Denise on January 13, 2009 at 11:02 am

    That photo was a hoot, Margo!
    I suppose all writers have their own process. It is definitely always interesting to hear about Diane’s. I always assumed that a writer just knew exactly what was going to happen in a story, from beginning to end, and that all they had to do was sit down and write it.
    Diane’s process sounds more like writing a term paper. Lol

  6. Diane Chamberlain on January 13, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    That picture is in my website gallery: http://dianechamberlain.com/chamberlain-gallery.htm
    I had lunch today with a few writer friends, including Theresa Fowler whose book, Souvenir, I love. She DOESN’T OUTLINE. I’m envious and awestruck.

  7. Margo on January 13, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I bought SOUVENIR last year & have it in my to-read stack…Diane, how does she write if not with an outline?

  8. Margo on January 14, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Diane, this morning I went to your gallery page just to get a peek of your outline cards taped to YOU…so funny!…all the pics are great…you are definitely in your element…the last pic ‘finished’, I don’t recall seeing…I love it!…suggestion: have an 8×10 of it framed for your office.
    Back to T Fowler, I pulled out SOUVENIR from my stack of ‘to read books’…now I’m debating whether to read that as my next book or I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE…I’m torn between the 2 of them. Anyone who wants to help me decide, please do so. I still wonder how T Fowler writes without having an outline…no wonder Diane is awestruck…I just assumed everyone started a novel that way.

  9. Margo on January 14, 2009 at 8:28 am

    P.S…our windchill this morning is -10 below with actual temp 3 degrees and dropping all day…wish I were home curled up with my quilt and reading.

  10. Denise on January 14, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Margo, I’m partial to IKTMIT, even tho’ I haven’t read SOUVENIR. I need to check into that one.

  11. Diane Chamberlain on January 14, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Margo, your choice of book should depend on whether you want a short or long read right now, because they’re both excellent. Very different, tho. I’ll try to get Therese over here (to the blog) when her next book comes out (April, I think). Maybe she’ll guest blog for us and tell us a little about her process.
    It’s getting really cold here, too–cold being a relative term. Supposed to get into the teens this week. I don’t know how you stand it. In a few minutes, I WILL be curled up in the sunroom with my synopsis and notecard stack. Brenda Witchger told me about these cool new Post-It note cards that you can stack and shuffle and stick to each other (or the dining room table) but unstick easily. I had to go get some, of course! Love them.
    I also love your idea, Margo, of blowing up that “finished” picture of me to remind me that there always is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  12. Margo on January 14, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    That was exactly what I was thinking Diane…have that wonderful, lighthearted picture of you hanging above your desk to remind you of what it feels like when you ‘finish’.
    Thx for the advise Diane and Denise…sometimes I’m torn on what to read next because they all look good…I will go with my original plans to read the Wally Lamb IKTMIS because all of you spoke highly of it and I’m so curious to read one of his novels…Diane, I think it would be exciting to have T Fowler guest blog on your site and explain her process! It will also be wonderful to hear about her new book.
    If it were in the teens here, we’d consider it a heat wave (lol)…we are definitely in a deep freeze right now.

  13. Ann on January 14, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I was trying to decide which book to read next and my choices are IKTMIT and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I am in the mood for a long book – suggestions as to which should be first??

  14. Margo on January 14, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Ann, I was the same way but everyone’s comments have been so positive with IKTMIT that I’m going with that one…I also want a large book to read and I was debating between W Lamb’s and EDGAR SAWTELLE and added SOUVENIR to the list (which is not large). I usally just go with what strikes me at the moment but have had a hard time choosing this time. I’m nearing the end of another huge book, THE HOST and will begin Lamb’s book next. (-O:

  15. Denise on January 14, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Ann, I haven’t read SAWTELLE so I can’t comment about it. For some reason, it just doesn’t appeal to me.

  16. Margo on January 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Ann and Denise, I bought EDGAR SAWTELLE when it first came out because I was intrigued with the storyline…Oprah ended up choosing it for her bookclub last Fall. I was so involved with the 4 books from the TWILIGHT series that I didn’t get it read last year but definitely will by Spring, hopefully…

  17. brenda on January 14, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Margo-go for IKTMIST…think you will like it–Denise, I am with you on the Sawtelle book.
    I finished a great book last night and getting ready to start a Karen Slaughter…I like some of her books…light reason-then the latest Grisham, of course…don’t know how that will be and some other favorites of mine-light mysteries and fiction…
    I love Diane’s strategies…we learn a lot from her…
    I am debating doing only one college class-it would be in the school where I am…we’ll see-I knew I could not go one semester only teaching high school…I am not going to the university where I usually teach-the absence of travel will help-but I love teaching those classes.

  18. Gina on January 14, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    WOW – having to choose between I Know This Much is True and Edgar Sawtelle as to which to read first? OH my, that’s a hard one. I loved them both ALOT. I’m not very much help, am I?

  19. Ann on January 15, 2009 at 12:33 am

    Thanks – I will read IKTMIT next!!

  20. Margo on January 15, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Gina, you are the 1st person I know who’s read EDGAR SAWTELLE…I’m glad to know it’s a good 1…Gary was so excited to give me IKTMIT for X-mas (from all of your great recommendations) that I’ve decided to read it next…like Ann, I want a BIG book to read and he gave me the hardcover edition which came from Amazon…THE HOST is also huge and I love it…getting close to the end now…I’ve never been a fan of science fiction but what I heard about this book is true…’an amazing book that will grab you and keep you reading well into the wee hours of night’…’a powerful science fiction book for people who don’t like to read science fiction’
    Just for your info everyone, we broke a record with our temps this a.m….-20 degrees below and windchill is -40 below…193 schools have closed in our State.

  21. brenda on January 16, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Margo-I am with Denise on the Sawtelle book…couldn’t get into it. Just read a Biography about Martha Washington–I know…I just get into a period when biographies and light fiction-that’s what I want…it was a good one…

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