National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo – is upon us next month, and around the world writers are preparing for the flurry – 50,000 words of story in four weeks. A pace not usually achieved by professional authors.
It’s great fun, and this week I’m starting a twice-a-week series of quick-find writing tips to help people along. They go with some of the longer posts I’m also publishing on this blog – including my Sunday ‘Writing Inspirations’ series, designed to help kick ideas off - and other things I can say about the craft of writing after 25 years in the business both as a published writer, and being involved professionally in publishing.
First off: structure. I never tire of ragging on about structure for writers. Why? Because it’s the single most important aspect of the ‘craft’ side of writing.
Structure works on all levels and scales, from the broadest structure of a written piece down to the way paragraphs, sentences and phrases are structured. The rules are much the same at all levels – and they boil down to one issue. How does the writer take their ideas – the simultaneity of concept – and render that into a single linear thread, able to capture interest, without losing that purity of idea.
It’s a huge, huge challenge. But the answer is structure. It is, of course, easy to say that. Whole books could be written on structure. And have been. But in essence, it works on three layers:
1. Macro-structure (the structure of the book)
You are telling a story – be it fiction or non-fiction. It will have a start, a middle and an end – this sounds facile, but it really IS the way that stories work. The character who opens a novel is incapable of meeting the challenges facing them (beginning). They learn along the way (middle) and then conquer those challenges (end). That structure covers all novels – well, all the ones that are likely to work and be published. Sometimes it has particular form – the ‘hero story’, epitomised in film by The Wizard of Oz or Star Wars. At other times it is less obvious. Non-fiction has to have structure, too – it has to be able to tell an argument, again, with beginning, middle and end.
2. Micro-structure (the structure of the paragraphs)
Each section of the story has to paint its own part of the thread. Characters have to develop in the right way. Stories have to be told in the correct manner. That requires careful planning. Sometimes that can be done with a spreadsheet, or note-cards. Or an author can ride the waves of inspiration and see what follows. But at the end of the day, it has to have the right structure to hold and capture the reader –to tell the tale, to have the right pace, and to do so efficiently.
3. Word structure (the structure of the sentences)
The whole tone of the reading experience is guided by the way the words, sentences and paragraphs fit together; the word structure. This is pivotal. The ideas have to be presented in the right order in the sentence to capture and hold the reader. The words have to be appropriate for it, too. Personally I don’t see why complex words are needed – as Hemingway once put it, why use ‘ten dollar words’ when there are ‘older and better’ words you can use.
There is an awful lot more I could say about structure – but hopefully it will have got you thinking. Do share those thoughts!
Next nano-tip: structure and the hero journey.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012