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Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story Paperback – August 17, 2013
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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"Static characters are boring characters. A Hitler who sat around in his swank Berlin office and twiddled his thumbs might have made for a happier Europe, but he wouldn't offer readers any reason to watch his actions…."
Really? Of all the examples of compelling characters, you pick Hitler? Your editor, if you had one, should have crossed this section out in red, and reminded you that comical references to the Holocaust are inappropriate, unnecessary, and tasteless. I wonder what deep-seeded feelings inspired you to use Hitler? "….might have made for a happier Europe?" How about, "might have saved the lives of more than 11 million innocent people?
Shame on you. In good conscience I will not read another page of your book.
I learned a lot just from the Table of Contents--and that was how I knew I was going to be fascinated by the rest of K.M. Weiland's latest release, Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story.
"Story structure is deeply instinctual. Most readers don't know a thing about structure; but they do know when a story doesn't work because something in its structure is off. Same goes for authors. Many successful authors write without any knowledge of structure, and their stories still work because they're instinctively following the tenets of structure without even being aware of it." -- Chapter 13
I was right. It only took me a few days to read this book, which is saying something when it comes to me and nonfiction. K.M. Weiland offers a thorough breakdown of what story structure means--a daunting task. Plus, she does it without being dry, boring, or overwhelming. I thought the terms and information would send my brain into overload, but Weiland remained witty and clear throughout.
Full of examples of what she means, illustrations of her points, and applicable advice for writers who want to grasp what it means to structure their novel, this book is an excellent resource for plotters and pantsers, those who are familiar with the three-act structure and those who are not (yet).
What I Didn't Like As Much
During the first half of the book, I wished that the examples Weiland chose (which include Pride and Prejudice and It's A Wonderful Life) were slightly younger. I wanted to see her dissect The Hunger Games or one of her own novels, but over the course of the book, I began to appreciate what she was doing--using examples that had half a chance of being familiar to a wide audience.
(And I suppose using The Hunger Games would introduce far too many spoilers.)
Why I Recommend This Book
For writers who know exactly what In Medias Res means and for those who have never heard of the Hook or the Inciting Event, K.M. Weiland offers a book that will decode story structure in such a way as to keep the writer/reader engaged and reaching for paper to write down ideas. Examples enlighten. Application abounds. I highly recommend Structuring Your Novel.
Just as I was nearing a point where I was getting ready to throw my laptop in the trash, swear off writing forever and cry into a carton of ice cream, I was given a tip. To paraphrase: once you understand the basic elements of story structure, there's no reason to ever come to a place where you're "stuck" not knowing what to do. Sure, there are times when you may be "stuck" trying to figure out how to get your heroine out of the hands of a tribe of cannibals in the jungle, but there should never be that sort of "wandering as I write because I don't know what should happen next" kind of being stuck that was repeatedly dogging my own writing. At this advice, I cracked into Weiland's book.
For the sake of honesty, I have read several of Weiland's books in the past including the twin to this book, Outlining Your Novel. In fact, it's precisely for this reason that I went to her book first rather than any of the eleventy-billion other writing books available. Her instructional style is clear and fun and her own novels show that she knows what she's doing beyond simply regurgitating what other writing coaches and instructors have done before her.
As I said, Mrs. Weiland's instructional style is relaxed and fun. Reading "Structuring Your Novel" (or it's twin, "Outlining Your Novel") doesn't feel like you're sitting in the grand halls of a university trying to digest the technical jargon being thrown at you by a famous professor. Rather it's closer to sitting down over coffee with a writer friend (albeit a much more experienced one than myself) at your kitchen table and chatting about your favorite stories. It's low pressure.
Furthermore, there's a genuine love of stories from all media formats that bubbles through Weiland's instructional writing which becomes very relatable. It's not uncommon for instructional books such as this one to pick a well known story (or several stories) to analyze in tandem as an example, but it is less common to choose universally loved stories like "It's a Wonderful Life" or more recent titles like Pixar's "Toy Story" that far more people are familiar with. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with disassembling a classic work like "The Great Gatsby" to see how the masters make their masterpieces, but many of us (myself included) probably read Gatsby in high school over a decade ago and only paid enough attention to get through the quiz at the end. This makes it difficult to follow and understand the analysis without doing a side-by-side read which can be. . . taxing. By selecting titles with which people are more likely to be intimately acquainted Weiland makes it far easier to process the information being presented.
Already I've been putting into practice what I've learned in this book while I write my own story and it's like that fire I used to have for writing has been stoked again. Starting a new project (or going back to one I'd abandoned) used to be intimidating; like someone handing you a shovel and telling you to move Mt. Fuji about twelve feet to the left. Now, it feels more like cracking open a 1,000 piece puzzle. It still takes time, patience and dedication, but getting the ground rules in place (do the edges first) does wonders for your momentum and gives you a foundation to revert back to when you get stuck.
Honestly, very little. I actually can't think of any glaring problems. I'm still a relatively new writer and others who have been around the typewriter a few more times than myself may see issues that I didn't recognize, but the book was a very enjoyable and useful tool for me. I expect to revisit it in the future when I need to refresh.
I've mentioned the twin to this book a couple times now and I should say that I enjoyed this one more than Outlining. This, I feel, is not Weiland's fault but rather a fundamental drawback to the outlining process. Story structure is far more definable which makes it much easier to discuss and teach while the outlining process varies from writer to writer. Some writers lay out out every scene and beat to their story before even attempting a single paragraph while others hit the page running and just wing it as they go. An outlining process that works for one person may not work for another and each writer must work to explore and discover what works best for their particular style. Structure, however, is universal because every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. This concrete nature of structure has helped me to come away from this book feeling like I've gained a tool rather than just encouragement to try something outside of "my box".