Shannon Stacey

A Slave to Structure

So Tuesday morning I spent several hours at the computer working. Notice how I didn’t say writing? I wasn’t writing, I was obsessing. Obsessing is something I’m fairly good at it, but Tuesday morning was excessive, even for me.

What was I obsessing over? Structure. I had my little chart and was calculating word counts of chapter and scenes, along with where the plot points were falling in regard to the word count and…

I’ve always been a little traditional with structure—three scenes per chapter, alternating hero and heroine POV. Occasionally a very short peek into a villain’s head. It was a very comfortable box for me.

I fell out of the box while writing No Surrender. It simply wouldn’t support the traditional structure without a lot of padding. It’s short scenes, however many per chapter, in the POV of the agent on the move. I liked it.

But now I’m working on the single title contemporary project, and I’m half in the box, half out. The previously written chapters follow a very traditional structure but the new stuff doesn’t seem to give a shit. So I felt I had to stop and analyze—figure out what was going on and charting out how I was going to fix it.

It went a little like this…

OMG, I’m averaging about 4400 words per chapter in the first three, but then it starts sliding and chapters five and six are only averaging 3500. And chapter five? OMG, the scenes are 893 words, 1237 words and 1213 words. So uneven! And, holy shit, the word count for chapter three, scene three is only 600? Shoot me now!

After spending almost an entire morning hyperventilating over my charts and graphs, I did something drastic…

I deleted every chapter break in the manuscript.

I did. I had to leave the scene breaks, of course, and I added scene breaks in the place of chapter breaks, but it’s still essentially one never ending chapter. It was like ripping off a bandaid. And you know that tiny little wince face you make when you rip it off? Almost forty-eight hours later, I’m still making that face.

But it had to be done because where my chapter breaks were falling in relation to my plot points and scene by scene word counts had become more important than the story. That’s not cool. And there’s still a little panicky voice inside screeching because when the draft is done, I’m probably going to end up with a book that’s partly strictly structured and partly whatever the hell it comes out.

But I can fix that. Later. Right now it needs to be all about the story.

4 comments to “A Slave to Structure”

  1. Alison
      · July 30th, 2009 at 11:11 am · Link

    I read on Tess Gerritsen’s blog that she does this. Or at least did it for the book she was talking about. Went back in after she was done and added chapter breaks where they worked. You’re in good company.

    I’m working on my fame & fortune book now *g* and my scenes are averaging 1000 words. Some I make chapters of their own. Some chapters will have two or three. Just how it falls and feels!

  2. Denise A. Agnew
      · July 30th, 2009 at 11:16 am · Link

    Hi there! You know, it’s a good thing I’m a pantster when it comes to writing. Too much structure just kills ye old story dead for me. I spend a lot of time :bang: if I plot too much. I also do a lot of :x The less structure for me, the better.

    Denise A. Agnew

  3. Melani Blazer
      · July 30th, 2009 at 1:42 pm · Link

    I’m guilty of this. Have written stories as one big chapter with scene breaks just like you said, then broken it up as necessary. Structure? Ha, I laugh in it’s funny little face.

  4. Karen Templeton
      · July 30th, 2009 at 4:02 pm · Link

    I’m so NOT about structure. Well, at least not all :gaah: like you are. I go by what feels right. And if it doesn’t feel right when I re-read it, I change/add/delete/move stuff.

    And there you have it: My entire writing technique in two sentences.

    IOW — stop :bang: and just write the damn book. ‘Kay?


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