Out of the Story’s Nebula: Structure in the Second Draft

Every manuscript is its own creature. Some stories are upfront, divulging so much information your fingers can’t type fast enough.

The first draft of Pierce My Heart, a meager 15K, was meant to be a concise introduction to the fae and their world. But my crit group pointed out that I could do one of two things: Scale back the conflict and keep it short, or dig into a more complex plot and expand.

I chose to expand. Pierce My Heart weaves together a dark, gritty who-done-it and a love story. Lithe and Garien’s potential romance is fraught with conflicts, namely, Lithe’s status as an outsider. Lithe’s chief conflict is a struggle within herself to face and accept who she is. The murder that she and Garien must solve serves as an external reminder of that conflict and why she can’t give herself to Garien.

When I sat down to write draft two, something strange happened with this story.

It sort of, well, opened up, and blew apart. It went from a tight little story to this nebulous creature I can’t pin down.

And strangest of all, I can’t shake the feeling that my characters—or the story itself—are hiding something from me.

There are several things of which I am sure:

1. This is a good story with plenty of potential. The pieces are there, even if I can’t figure out how they fit together.

2. The issue is one of form and structure.

3. I am overlooking something, and it will drive me crazy until I figure out what.

4. I am capable of figuring out what that something is.

So, fellow writers, have you been there? What do you do when a story enters the nebula, when you feel like you’re missing something but you don’t know what? How do you help the manuscript find or retake its shape?

A few days ago, I mentioned on Twitter that my “creative mojo” appeared to be missing. Debra Krager (@debrakristi) sagely advised: “You need a mojo lifter? Maybe a weekend off. Do something different and fun to find it.” She also blogged about this very subject here. (Timing really is everything.)

Somehow I have to work this weekend (day-job stuff). I’m not thrilled, but deadlines are deadlines, and no one’s going to hold the presses so I can have some fun.

But heck, maybe I’ll squeeze it in anyway. Perhaps a dose of silly creativity will give me the jolt I need to put the pieces together.

12 thoughts on “Out of the Story’s Nebula: Structure in the Second Draft

  1. You’re absolutely right – structure is so important to any writing. It integrates at every level with the narrative events of the plot (what we usually think of as ‘plot’), the character development arcs, the dramatic tension, and reader expectation. One method which I’ve always advocated for dealing with it is to break the book down into its components, that ‘deconstruction’ so beloved of academia, then seeing how the parts fit together. Taking a break, as Debra Krager suggested, is also good. In terms of reconstructing the novel once it’s broken down to components, I’ve written a fair amount about how to do that on my blog, including the latest post – sorry if this sounds like shameless self promotion, but I’ve posted a fair amount of stuff that might be helpful, more than I can type into a comment. And good luck! There’s nothing better, or more fun, than writing something – and knowing that there’s a fair chance of it bringing pleasure to people along the way.

    Matthew Wright

    • Thanks, Matthew! I will definitely check out your blog. I think my problem might be that I’ve broken the story down into too many small parts. Perhaps a three-act structure is in order.

      Debra’s advice is good, isn’t it? It seems like the solutions and ah-ha moments always come to me when I’m doing the dishes or brushing my teeth.

  2. I always have screaming kids running around me when I’m doing the dishes, so I don’t get my best ideas then. LOL Mine usually blossom in the shower (hot water therapy) or on a hike, in the quiet calm of nature. But if my story was taking place in the heart of downtown, I might get my best ideas cruising the city streets. Who knows. I haven’t been there yet. Good luck Janelle, and thanks for the link!

    • Yes, I could see how kids+dishes doesn’t equal the best creative time. The shower is a great place to think over story ideas. In the spring, summer, and fall, I spend a lot of time outdoors and feel much more inspired.

      And the timing of your post really was perfect. Thanks! 🙂

    • I’m currently in a long dansitce relationship (7 hrs apart) and am finding it increasingly difficult to be patient and content through the dating phase. I was hoping Carissa might have some advice as to how she survived 16 months! Any particular scriptures that helped you to make it through?

  3. Pingback: Sunday ROW80 and This Week in Review | Janelle Madigan

  4. Pingback: Sunday ROW80 and This Week in Review | Denise D. Young, writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s