YA (Or Any!) Structure – CWC 2015 Session I (2)

Author Highlight:

cardhouseNow that we have gone over how to choose a structure, it’s time to think about what to do once we’ve settled on one. After you have chosen a structure,try to:

  1. Use Details to Strengthen Structure. Everything can help strengthen your structure – even details as small as the names chosen for characters. Try not to let details go to waste by doing little more than describing the physical nature of characters or settings. For example, if your structure centers around songs like Michelle’s does, it can’t hurt to have your characters have the same first names of the artists that wrote some of your feature songs – especially for side characters, or for when you can’t find names that “just fit.”
  2. Form Chapters that Stand (Moderately) Alone. Some structures do not allow for a chapter format, but if yours does, consider forming chapters that “make sense in isolation.” If a chapter reads beginning-to-end like a miniature story, than you are breaking your book up into pieces that will fit together tightly. This in turn will make your structure stronger.
  3. Finalize Your Prologue Last. Your tale should always be tellable without a prologue; if you add one, it should add something to the story, but not be required for the story to make sense. Because of this non-necessity, a prologue can exist outside your normal structure, or even help to set it up. A way to maximize the structural potential of your prologue is to add or reevaluate it after the rest of your draft is done. It took me three years to figure out my prologue for IWTYT – but it does ten times the work of anything else I’d come up with before, in part because I added it last.
  4. Align Your Emotional & Event Arcs. During the course of the story, there are both event and emotional story arcs – and they should basically run parallel to one another. After all, they often form a cause and effect relationship. If you already have an event planned in your outline, pencil in what emotion will follow, and vice versa. This will allow for natural progression.
  5. Maximize Your Scene Order Potential. If your plot structure or progression doesn’t feel right, try putting all your events onto note cards and penciling in the reasons why each scene is important. You could find a better order for them, and cut out scenes that don’t pull their weight.

Session I Missed:

The next post will be about the Writing Place in Fiction session with Christine Sneed. To see this session, I had to miss the #SoMe: Why Social Media Really Isn’t About You session by Nora Brathol. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!

YA (Or Any!) Structure – CWC 2015 Session I

Author Highlight:


This CWC session was set up like a conversation between the above three authors and a moderator. As an author of a book that couldn’t traditionally be called YA (it’s too long… sigh), I was surprised to learn as much as I did from this session. It’s enough to fill two whole blog posts, with even more on top of that. I hope you can make use of the advice of these lovely authors!

When choosing a structure for an upcoming project, consider the following:

  1. Character and Setting as Starting Points. Building any structure happens in layers. The first layer of a story is generally the character in your head, and the second is the setting you want them to be in. This is mostly foundational, however, and the final layer, structure, decides how the story will form from then on. Find a structure that fits in line with your character and setting – or you’ll end up with a story that’s mismatched and crooked, like a house with an unreliable contractor.
  2. Structure Pros and Cons. Think about what your structure can do for you – and what it can’t do. For example, Natalie’s book is written entirely in e-mails. This structure forced Natalie and her co-writer to reveal emotion and events second-hand and after the fact. In this way the story progresses naturally, but also takes work to unravel. You can therefore use structure to challenge and “corner” yourself, and thus add new effects to the project.
  3. The Number of Voices. Stories can often benefit from having additional points of view. If you are short on word count or depth, consider finding a structure that allows you to fit new voices into your project. You can even use structure to do this in a neat way. For example, a book in verse, like Stefanie’s, can allow for new voices to be written in new types of verse structure.
  4. “Why” Before “What.” Know what you are trying to get across with your chosen structure. If you already have a story, but are trying to fit it into a new structure, be willing to lose parts of the original story in order to make a better book. A good structure can change everything; let it.
  5. Character Breathing Room. Your chosen setting is going to affect the way you display your characters. Events should change your character, but structure shouldn’t – after all, it’s (usually) an external constraint added by you, not an internal constraint decided by the characters. Make sure your structure lets your characters breathe; it should fit like a glove, not a corset.

The next post, YA Structure Part Two, will go into some of the advice given on how to work with your structure once you have chosen it.

Session I Missed:

To see this session, I had to miss the How To Pitch session by Laurie Scheer. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!