It has been quiet here for a few weeks due to my being on holiday here:
That’s not the only reason I have had little time for blogging though. I have, after all been back for over a week now, and the schools reopened last week, giving me my writing mornings back. So why haven’t I been posting? Because I have been using my writing mornings for just that, writing. Or more precisely, editing.
Anticipating the impact starting my MA might have on my short fiction writing, I wrote a whole clutch of stories at full pelt in the summer and autumn of 2011, the plan being to give them time to sit in a draw before editing them whenever I might have a sliver of time to devote to one. This last week or so I’ve been doing just that. Editing. Though, right now, in the midst of the Nth draft of a story that continues to bedevil me, it feels more like wrestling.
My story starts back in early August when, lucky enough to have some writing time, I nipped off to my wife’s classroom for some piece and quiet. I finished a first draft of a story in the morning. In the afternoon I pulled up a story on my laptop whose first draft I wrote back in October 2011 and whose structure has yet to feel quite right, despite much of the writing within the sections feeling mostly complete. The words themselves seemed in the right order, they seemed the best words, but the organising structure for the sections just wasn’t clicking. I tried shoving the stuff around on Scrivener’s cork board (more on this later) but had little joy. Sitting alone in the classroom I looked around in desperation, certain that I would never get it right, and my eye caught on a pile of coloured paper. And a tray of scissors. And a tub of Pritt Sticks. And pot of marker pens.
Pretty soon I had this:
Having used the analogue method for shifting scenes I went back and moved them round on the cork board of my Scrivener file for the story, compiled it and (back at home) printed out the new story structure in full to see how it read. I then left the story and the structure sheet in a folder, to be dealt with once back from holiday.
Problem is, once I got back and had chance to read the story through, look at the structure again and read through the detailed comments made by Jodi in her insightful beta read of the old draft, I realised this new structure wasn’t working either. So it was back to the drawing board. Or rather, back to the carpet.
Yesterday, inspired by Adam Marek’s post showing how he always lays out a short story on the floor to see the structure at a glance, I thought I would give that a go. Here’s what mine looked like:
Truth be told this is not a million miles away from one of the ways I use Garageband when I record my stories to listen back for errors or clunky bits. I record each section of a story separately so that you can see how long each section is in relation to all the others in a glance at the voice track I am using. One advantage of laying the pages of the story out like this though is the fact you can zoom in on, by which I really mean lean over and peer at, the text to take in the transitions. You can of course easily zoom out, or lean back, to take in the text as a whole again.
Happy that I had it pretty much sorted I put it away again until this morning. At this point I had a new scene to write in draft so cracked on with that. Once it was done I read the whole thing out and recorded it to hear each section in isolation. What I heard while recording didn’t sound too bad, but the proof will be in the listening back tomorrow. I also tweaked the odd scene around (merging three scenes into one long one at one point) to keep things moving at a lick.
So as of now, the story looks like this in Garageband:
Before finishing today I went back and tweaked my Scrivener file’s cork board to ensure the correct order:
So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am with this story. I have been working on this one for almost twelve months now, on and off. I hope to have it finished soon. I thought a year sounded like a long time, but Tania Hershman’s recent post about the writing of her story Under The Tree put my toil on this story into perspective. She worked on Under The Tree for three years before it was right (and it is now very, very right – read it here). Here’s hoping I haven’t got another two years to go. I’ll have some idea of what else needs work after I give it a listen and read through the compiled manuscript from Scrivener.
So, that was my much longer than intended post about wrestling with my current WIP’s structure. What works for you when you’re trying to whip a story into shape?
10 Responses to Struggling with Structure
I’m afraid I just make it all up as I go along.
Which probably explains a lot…
I make up the first draft as I go along. Which probably explains why the editing takes me so long.
If you’re making up Too Much Sex & Violence as you go Rol, keep doing it. First three issues are aces.
I always have a voice set in my head before I start to write – whether first, second or third person pov (or mixed – I get each voice set) – then I let the voice tell me the story.
I’m glad your methods work for you, but, in all honesty, if I ever thought writing a story had to be so complex, I porbably would never have tackled one in the first place. I have enjoyed reading about your struggle though – perverse as that sounds – great blog post.
I do read my stories out loud – that’s a key bit of advice I’d echo.
This is unusual for me Rachel. My normal process is thankfully much simpler. This story started as you describe, with a clear idea of the voice and the events in the story. The tricky thing with this one has been finding the right order in which to tell the story to the reader.Hence the many and ongoing changes to the structure. Glad you liked the post. I suppose if nothing else this struggle with this story highlights the difference between story and plot.
Really interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring post, Dan, thank you! If my post in any way provoked this, I am glad. I love the idea of laying it all out on the floor! Probably works better for stories longer than, umm, one page. I’ve done a little actual cutting and pasting before too, it’s so satisfying.
As I said in the comments to your post, Tania, you certainly have got me thinking about how to edit the structure of a story. Physically cutting and pasting is a very tangible way to deal with structure and one I used to do with my typewritten comic scripts years ago. As for laying things out on the floor, I suppose it’s all to do with changing your perspective on the work. Read this week about using a washing line to peg up pages of a story to see them in a line. I like the idea of that but we only have room for a spinning washing line here, so my version of this would make a revolving story.
I’ve printed out longer works before to see how the sections differ. I think the visual aspect of the work is important enough to do so. It helps one know which sections are less developed than others. This might be OK, but it’s good information to have.
Seeing a physical representation of how the story structure is shaped is certainly helpful for me, gives me good view of the story’s pacing and where things need to be moving faster or slower.
I love this kind of nerdy, obsessional, behind-the-scenes detail.
Me too Neil. This is me writing the sort of blog post I like to read.
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