Some thoughts on structure


As the building blocks of my next project begin to take shape, I’ve been pondering on how I’m going to put them all together to form a coherent whole. If I’m going to stick to the plan of commencing a first draft in January, then I’ll need to have chapter outlines worked out in the next few weeks. Well I know I don’t have to, but that approach has worked for me so far so I’m kinda keen to keep it going.

How the novel’s going to be structured isn’t a decision I need to square away completely now, of course. I can still play with the structure right into the editing phase. But in my mind what I write – and particularly what I reveal – will be influenced a lot by the order in which the story is told.

If you’ve been following my thoughts on the story so far, you’ll know it takes place in two distinct time periods: the teenage summers of the 1970s, and the grown-up days of thirty-odd years down the line. There might be some moments in between that need exploring, but I’ll deal with that when I come to it. It definitely doesn’t feel like the story is going to be a linear progression between the past and the present. Things will swing back and forth, and not necessarily in any particular order.

It all oscillates around one particular event. I’m not going to tell you what that is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to reveal it in its entirety until the end of the novel. There will be hints and clues along the way, but I think the truth needs to stay hidden for as long as possible.

I know I could just work on alternating chapters, jumping back and forth between past and present, but I feel like I want something that flows a bit more organically than that. I was watching a film last night – Begin Again – and I really like the way it tells its story. Flashbacks are triggered by concrete things which shift the narrative to a different time and place from where it works its way up to a key event that is retold several times from slightly different perspectives. I liked the way that approach built up the story, like layers of paint on a canvas. I might try to do something similar, though it would take some quite complex mapping to get right.

Just writing all this down is helping. I’m starting to see how the pieces might fit, and that in turn is actually adding to my ideas about the plot and characters. I can see a very large piece of paper with numerous post-it notes in my near future… And yes I know I could do it on Scrivener, but it’s just not quite the same.


Writing Bubble
Mums' Days

10 thoughts on “Some thoughts on structure

  1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

    I’m with you on Post Its, somehow it’s never quite the same if you don’t physically write things down and move them around 🙂 Your ideas all sound really exciting, having got a flavour for your characters through the short pieces you have written so far, I am intrigued and definitely looking forward to finding out more. I’m also really interested to read how you (and others on the linky) go about structuring and organising longer pieces of writing… It’s inspiring and getting me thinking 🙂

  2. redpeffer

    Yes, me too-being able to see and physically move ideas around is so much easier for me to visualise. I’ve just had an idea that’s been milling around in my head start to take a definite shape and this time around I feel the need to do a lot more in terms of preparation-it feels right. Whereas the last manuscript I wrote and the one I’m currently editing, was very much a flow of thought.
    I’m not sure whether it’s the nature of the stories that dictate the working progress or experience!
    Will be following your novel with a lot of interest 🙂

  3. maddy@writingbubble

    I already want to read your novel and the more you write about it the more intrigued I am! I like the idea of the ‘layers of paint on a canvas’ approach – tricky to do I can imagine but if you can pull it off it would be so satisfying! I loved Begin Again although weirdly I can’t remember how it was structured at all only that I felt like I was pulled along with it, like it unfolded and developed naturally. Sounds like you’re doing really well with your novel and I’m loving reading about its development via #whatImwriting – thanks for linking up. xx

  4. Nicola Young

    I like the way you structure your work and build up the story. It can be difficult to put together two different times frames, so will require a lot of planning and thought.

  5. Emily Organ

    Doing this type of planning is an exciting stage to be at. I find if I’m mulling things over like this then I read as much as I can and I watch films (like you) too. You can learn an awful lot from films I think because structure is key when trying to tell a story within a set time limit. Good luck with your structuring, it’s something I’ll be working on early next year too. I just have to resist doing the writing and then thinking about structure afterwards – always desperate to run before I can walk!

  6. afamilydayout

    Ooh, sounds exciting – especially the ‘event’. Have you read Perfect by Rachel Joyce? That has a similar 1970s/modern day plot with a defining event (or come to think of it, several). Worth a read although I was expecting the worst the whole way through the novel, definitely has a sense of foreboding!

  7. deskmonkeymummy

    Oh, post-it notes! Now I need to go stationery shopping again.

    I like the flashback theme. The book I wrote in the summer was driven by current events and matched with flashbacks. I wrote the flashbacks at the beginning of the chapters and in past tense, and the current events in present tense. I’ve not read it back yet though so no idea whether that was a hair-brained scheme.

    More excitement lies ahead! xx

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