18 thoughts on “Narrative Structure is up over on HWSWA

  1. Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse, but apropos to the discussion of generational differences and romance, I remembered this article. I think there were several that came out around the same time, but I thought this one was very thorough.
    Before anyone else says it –
    1) Obviously there can sex without romance and romance without sex
    2) Information people share about their sex lives needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, always.
    3) I’m disappointed the headline wasn’t “Millennials killing sex, prefer avocado toast.”

    I can only imagine the quarantine is going to make this all more complicated.

    1. Thanks for sharing! That was an interesting, if occasionally depressing, article.

      As a single millennial who was dating before quarantine the answer is yep, a pandemic makes dating more complicated. I’ve pretty much stopped because deciding to physically see someone is followed by the question, “What are the odds that meeting this person will be worth isolating for two weeks before I get to see people in my quarantine bubble again (and have another human physically touch me)?”

      On the other end of the spectrum, one of my millennial friends is still dating, but her choice means two friends who are normally in her tight-knit, physically present support group now feel they can’t spend nearly as much time with her in person, because she’s making out with people who may or may not be following good social distancing practices.

      So short answer: yup, it’s making it more complicated.

    2. That’s kind of depressing. Back when I actually had sex partners (god, I hope I have sex again before I die), I was up for it at least once a day, but my partners just weren’t. I was shocked. The guy I lived with was much less interested once we moved in together and I actually had to keep a diary to show him how long it had been since we’d had sex. I had expected more from being a sexually interested adult. (Which I still am.) And yes, the pandemic behaviors are going to make is so much harder. (Not.)

  2. I saw The Old Guard and was underwhelmed. Theron just didn’t pull off the ancient and tired. Mostly she just came across as pissed.
    I would watch a show with the gay couple, the new marine and Chiwetelu Ejiofor. But I will watch Ejiofor in almost anything.

    1. The Old Guard grew on me as it went on. Charlize is not always my favourite thing in any given film, but she seems to pick good/interesting films so I stick with her.

  3. The only problem with reading Mayer & Crusie on structure is that the two of you are so knowledgeable about classic structural patterns that you use shorthand or brief references to books or movies to convey what you’re saying. I’m way more ignorant, so I often can’t really follow things. Or it’s covid. Or both.

    I think I tend to like fiction that starts with a clear and deep sense of the characters better than things that seem to be based on structuring out the plot in advance. When I start to have the sense that the main characters are just being rushed along from exciting scene to thrilling scene, in a tide that has little to do with who they are, what they want, and what they’re thinking and feeling…. that’s when I toss the book aside and donate it to the library bookstore.

    Unless it’s Diana Wynne Jones, who for some reason combines both in some of her books. Which reward careful study, but aren’t the books I find myself re-reading.

  4. Well first — I did NOT mean to criticize! My ignorance is all my own, and I don’t watch the movies Bob watches, or read the thrillers he talked about in his opening, so…more ignorance.

    But here are the things I didn’t follow:

    1. Linear structure, if I understand you, is “first this happens, then this, then this etc. until the last thing happens.” How is that really structured? You can make anything happen after this other thing, but what would be the organizing structure? Is this the same thing that you describe as acts?

    2. What did Bob mean by “Escalation, Expectation and Exposition.” Was he reading from some kind of notes? Outline? Was he contrasting those as approaches, or just listing some things you need to think about when writing? (To me, they kind of seemed to come up out of nowhere.)

    3. The idea of “turning points” seems to imply some type of structure — one where one endpoint is implied in the series of actions, then X happens and all of a sudden things are moving towards a different one. My understanding of these in fiction all revolve around either relationships (hated him, then bingo…didn’t!) (aw… he’s my own sweet baby… uh… liar… uh… two-timer… I hate him!) or big fights (the evil wizards are invincible, but then the centaurs burst through the wall, and the kingdom is safe now). How do you conceive of turning points as necessarily structural?

    4. “Frame story. See also Heart of Darkness. Broken frame: Turn of the Screw.” I have the simplistic idea of a frame story as two time periods — one looking back on past events & assessing them, the other all kinds of action in the past. With some amount of echo with the assessing folks and what they were experiencing in the present. Don’t get “broken frame” at all. Read the Turn of the Screw in high school and don’t recall a thing about it except what I inferred from Maybe This Time.

    5. So… patterned? What exactly did this mean: “if you have a reason to go patterned–say you’re writing Out of Sight–then you cowboy up and do the hard stuff.”

    6. I know what a ficelle is, in bread. But what is a ficelle character? What’s it have to do with structure?

    7. “I look at how much front loading I have in a scene before the dialogue starts. Cut the beginnings to get to the interactions.” Is this basically the removal of fluffy prologue-y expository stuff in a scene before the fun interactions happen? Or is front loading a structure thing? [Which brings up my confusion between structuring of a whole novel/story, versus structuring of a scene between characters. Are these different things? Is scene structure part of your pre-book process, or something you look at when you’re editing a book?]

    8. “Smooth Criminal” on Glee was kind of creepy. I liked “Loser Like Me” a whole lot better.

    Thank you, Jenny!

    1. Jinx, thank you for writing out all those questions! I had the same ones, but you wrote them out so articulately. So, ditto. 🙂

    2. Jinx, these are great questions which I’m going to turn into a post. Tomorrow (g). Thank you!

  5. I found this post exceedingly entertaining. Of course, I am not planning to write anything with a plot, which may be a factor, but not necessarily.

    I don’t mind a short prologue that helps define character. Skye mentioned Jane Anne Krentz, who does a lot of them, and I don’t mind. For me, they come across as an introduction to characters – “Jenny, this is Heroine, and how she behaved at 15. Let’s see how she now behaves at 30”. Can’t really think of any other prologues – probably skimmed them. And it is certainly no worse than the start of “The Foundling” which has the duke wandering around the estate for pages before anything happens. Georgette can get away with anything.

    Epilogues: “Bet Me” would have been the poorer without it – I was invested in those characters and it was part of the HEA which IS the plot, after all. One of Louisa May Alcott’s has bit at the end about what happens to at least some of the characters, “An Old Fashioned Girl” I believe. I only remember because the younger sister is going to turn out to be an old maid. So maybe I only like it if it tells me about the support characters? The end for the main characters should be satisfying enough without one.

    1. I never thought the end of Bet Me was a epilogue because the book began “Once upon a time” and ended on “they all lived happily ever after.” So it was a complete fairy tale, nothing added at the end.

  6. I’m not sure if we’re talking about plot as part of structure or not … but my mine question about plot is how to tell if you’ve got the right amount of it. Like, if you’re writing a novel-length linear story, how do you tell how many events you need to put in – how many obstacles you need to put in front of your heroine before she reaches her overarching goal?

    Obviously, you can tell a short story or a long one about the same bunch of events, so maybe my question is also about how to figure out how much detail to go into. Are there techniques for this?

    I’m fine at writing scenes, but creating a book out of them is a whole other level of hard.

    1. I’m with you on the writing scenes is fine. And turning them into a structured story is hard. It’s why I’ve always found short stories much easier to write than novel-length stories, and I’m trying to teach myself how write something longer.

  7. More giggling.

    “Okay, we’re talking about structure and so far we have two rules:

    1.Snappy patter is not structure.

    2. Don’t kill everyone.”

    While entertained, I must confess I also did not come away from that one feeling enlightened. Due to past meditations on hatred of prologues/epilogues I have … entirely? … mentally flipping through the backlist … avoided or eliminated those. I have an upcoming novella in which there is a 13-year jump from the penultimate scene to the conclusion, which is necessary in order to finish the story. Or at least to turn it from a HFN to a HEA. But it is not an epilogue, it’s a continuation from one major moment for those characters to the next.

    Anyway, yes, structure. Linear is the only way I can conceive of writing a romance without completely pissing off the average romance reader, who I (perhaps optimistically) imagine to be like me. That is, there for the love story and not for literary gymnastics that necessitate parking the love-story narrative temporarily in order to perform said gymnastics.

    Within a This > That > The Other Thing approach, some stories might want three acts (or four or five). A given act might want external forces or secondary characters to stress the main characters in order to move the story forward. How to bring those in might be a structural challenge. Thinking out loud here …

    When you (Jenny and Bob, bestselling authors whose expertise I actively solicit) talk about structure are you actually talking about things like an outline, or are you talking about the mental shape of the entire story?

    Because the latter is kind of where I am. It’s a four-dimensional thing, a story. It exists in time, and in a physical location. The whole built environment where the characters will interact, that’s structure. It limits the possibilities, is one way to look at it. If you (rhetorical ‘you’) are writing a contemporary romance set in the real world, even if you set the romance in a fictional town, that whole town has to exist for the characters.

    Where they go, what they do there, who they encounter – all those things may technically be setting, action, and characters but they also are structure. (Thinking back to Jenny’s evolving act breakdowns for Nita.) They provide the stage on which the main characters act. Thus relocating a scene from one piece of setting to another in order to serve the plot. Perhaps a conversation needs to take place which logistically cannot take place in one location: e.g. it needs to be private, so it can’t be conducted in a restaurant, which was where the characters landed for [reason]. So then you have to have a reason to move your characters to the private location, as well as a full visualization of that location. Oh lord it’s a wonder anybody can write anything.

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