Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Structure and Plot

Nicola Morgan, the awesome author of such books as THE HIGHWAYMAN'S FOOTSTEPS and its sequel THE HIGHWAYMAN'S CURSE (she has also written many others but these are the two I have read ans loved) has a great post up on her blog today about story structure and shape. You can find it here:


Reading Nicola's post got me thinking about the very varied methods we writers use to structure or map our stories. Some of us don't map in any way shape or form, while others of us are quite anal about the method we use.

To be honest, my methods seem to change from story to story and book to book. I tend not to do any sort of physical mapping when I write a short story, I just keep the story plot in my head.

The first book I started writing (and haven't yet finished - it needs too much work and I have too many other things to write about at the moment) has a working title of THE BLACK HAWK (adult fantasy). When I started writing it (many years ago) I vaguely knew where I wanted the story to go, so I had the big climaxes worked out, but I ended up mapping and plotting the story as I wrote it. It had a mind of its own and while I managed to tame it enough to get the highs and lows I wanted it to have, getting to those moments was a wonderful ride of surprise and suspense. :D

Once it was half written, I mapped the whole novel from beginning to end, charting every high and low point and wrote in the event at each peak and valley. This really helped me SEE what the story looked like. It helped me figure out where I had desert wastes (long dull bits where not much happened) and oceans (where too many peaks were happening one after the other) and my readers might drown due lack of breath from too much excitement. See Nicola's comments about allowing your reader to breath.

The children's historical novel, PRINCESS OF THE PIGSTY, began in much the same way. Though once I began to write, I quickly knew exactly where the story was going and plotted it out from start to finish. This made it much easier and faster to write. I did muck around with the placement of some of the minor events in the story which made for a smoother read, but ultimately the plot and story structure remained unchanged. I was able to finish the SFD in about four months, though my tendency to be finicky about editing dragged the whole process out much longer.

My new YA MS has been a different experience altogether. I got the idea in a sudden flash of inspiration, then thought about it and chatted about it with my writing buddy for a month or so. Then one afternoon I sat down and plotted in detail the whole novel from start to finish, and wrote a short synopsis for the two follow-on novels. It was amazing! Now I understand how writers can churn out a couple of novels each year. I started writing it at the beginning of October and my SFD is now 1/3 written. (I know some of you write much faster than this, so stop gloating!)

Plot outlines and story structure maps might be tedious to draw up, but I am now totally sold on how worth while they are - especially if your story in complex and multi-layered. So, if you have never tried it, I encourage you to give it a go.

I'd love to hear how you formulate your story structure.
Do you just write and see what happens?
Are you like me and vary in your method from story to story?
Or are you very ridged in the method you use?
How do YOU do it?


  1. Enjoyed Nicola's post and yours pen. I really liked the breathing analogy. It might help me with my chapter divisions because I just write and then divide. Really not good. Having only written one novel (well not finished yet) I only know the one way: Write what's in the mind, different scenes all over the place and then put it together, and the characters dictate the story to a point.
    I am looking forward to my next novel where I do intend to do a chapter by chapter plan first, and now I can use the plot shape too. I like drawing mountains!

  2. I'm not much of a plotter. I have a general idea, but for me, the characters often drive the plot, so I have files and files of character journals, sketches, profiles, etc. I also sometimes write scenes out of order and chapter divisions kill me! Maybe I should give the plot outline a try.