Using Structure to Best Effect

Like I’ve always said, I’m a planner and an outliner. I can’t just wing my way through a novel.I need my big picture.

Part of having that big picture outlook is knowing what the meat and bones of the story are ahead of time.  The dressing, the sinew, the sauce (depending on which metaphor you feel like using), that always comes out in the writing itself.  Sometimes on the second draft.  (Case in point, in the currently-wrapping-up Maradaine Constabulary, I’ve found Minox’s whole extended family, something that didn’t exist before.  Taking him out of the standard ‘loner’ trope has had some interesting effects.) 

But a problem I’ve run into, almost every time, is that desire to write those “meat and bones” scenes, making it something of a challenge to write those “sinewy tissue” scenes, that are just as necessary.  Each time, on Thorn, on Holver Alley, and on Maradaine Constabulary, I reached a point where, in frustration, I would write a [SCENE ABOUT THIS] notation and move ahead. 

And that’s fine.  I think every writer needs to learn their own particular process, and accept how they work it.  It took me a while to realize I had to be a planner.  I had many, many crash-and-burns romanticizing the “just write and see where it takes me” method.  It doesn’t work for me. 

(If that works for you, excellent.  I’m not knocking on any one person’s methods.  If your methods work for you, then continue with what works.  Though I think people should always analyze whether something REALLY works for them, or they just THINK it does.)

Anyhow, I’ve now accepted that simply writing straight through in a linear way doesn’t work for me.  I need to satisfy those urges to write the big tentpole sequences that hold the story up, and then use the ropes and canvas to hold it all together.

(I’m just throwing all sorts of metaphors around, aren’t I?)

So, this is the experiment with Way of the Shield.  It’ll also be my first attempt at writing a novel entirely on Scrivener.  Scrivener, of course, it’s quite useful in non-linear writing.  Scenes can be written individually, and then assembled in the desired order, new scenes stuck in-between, and so forth.  I believe that this will yield faster results, as my finish-by goal for the rough draft is May 15th.

Down to the word mines I go.


  1. Your point about what REALLY works in contrast to what you THINK works is an important one. People romanticize the “inspiration” idea, for example, thinking that the muses will bestow upon them a wonderful idea. The person then will write a full novel in two weeks, and it will be perfect. Ha. Again, I say, “ha.”

    But, as you point out, one must find the process that works FOR YOU. Just because the furious intense writing binge worked for Kerouac doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else.

  2. The inverse of that (or perhaps the converse) is, as a teacher (in the limited capacity that I’ve been one), one shouldn’t be all, “This is MY way, and therefore it is THE way, so follow my formula or you will FAIL!”

    I will, however, question someone when they say they HAVE to do it a certain way, but then when asked, “How many novels have you finished?” the answer is “zero”.

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