For years I’ve taught students about the importance of structure in writing. “Have a plan,” I tell them. “Make sure you know what you want to say. It’s much easier to revise an outline or summary than a whole document.” For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been re-learning this important lesson as I work on finishing the novel I started in November during NaNoWriMo.
Back in November getting the words written never created a problem. Finding time to type them into the computer was sometimes difficult, but that was just logistics, no more difficult than finding time to stop by the grocery store or respond to some emails. When I sat down to write, the words flowed.
A flow of words, however, doesn’t make a novel. In my case, the flow made a messy blob of a story, one without the framework necessary to stand on its own. That framework is what I am now trying to go back and insert, and as this semi-effective metaphor indicates, inserting a structure after the fact is complicated and challenging.
So how am I going about inserting this structure? I’ve gone old-school: index cards. Right now I am painstakingly going through the words I have written and the story still in my head and outlining each scene on an index card. This is painful. And hard. And so not my comfort zone. I like the spurts of writing, the quick flash of ideas, not the laser-like focus on details, not the slow but steady buildup of tension and discovery. When I tell myself stories, I don’t have to worry about transitions between scenes, or keeping track of the days—hell, I have trouble keeping track of the days in real life—but these things are vital to a novel.
While this is a slow and painful process, I think it might be working. I found places where no logic whatsoever existed, so I added in scenes to show how action A relates to action B, or why MC #1 (Main Character—remember last week’s dictionary?) is reacting a certain way. I’m sloooowly figuring out how to build up tension in the story, what kind of questions the reader should be asking. I’m deciding when to include bits of memory and flashback to help describe the main characters instead of just dumping it all at once on the reader. When I’m done with this part, I will, hopefully, have an actual story instead of a big lifeless blob of words.
But this part is hard.