H is for House: Novel Structure for Pantsers
I’ve been taking a course called Structure Safari on novel structure. The first thing I always think when I hear “structure” is a PowerPoint slide showing a house with a foundation, walls, and the roof. Admittedly, though I’ve been writing for many years, I never really understood structure. Craft books didn’t pay much attention to it, which made me feel like it was being dismissed as unimportant. So it was easy for me to dismiss it, too. But after seeing an indie story that lacked structure, I understood how screamingly important it is. Without good structure, the story fails.
But. Yeah, there was that old but. The books discussing structure wrap it up in outlines, as if that’s the only way to get structure. I’m a pantser. I can’t outline. So what is it — everyone writes differently, but if I’m a pantser, don’t bother trying? That’s a different message that grates and chafes at me because it’s such an outright dismissal that process can be different.
There isn’t anything out there for writers like me. So I’ve had to mine for bits and pieces I can use.
Things I’ve Learned
Structure will not happen for me in the first draft. I figure out what the story is by writing the story. It’s pretty much like throwing paint on the wall to see what sticks. I think I could make sure scenes have conflict in them, but I won’t know enough about the story until I get there to introduce structure.
Revision is where structure comes in for me. It doesn’t occur the moment I start revising, but it evolves into the story as I shuffle scenes to get a feel for where everything fits. I think of the parts of structure as buckets I can see in my head:
- First half of the middle,
- Second half of the middle
I just need to know that each one has a high point in the story, and one lower high point. Once I’ve identified the high points in the story, and I can fill in additional scenes or shuffle scenes to build on them.
QUESTION FOR YOU: Pantsers, what’s your experiences with structure? When do you get it into the story? What have been some of the challenges?