The Write Place
The shin bone’s connected to the head bone???
Linear storytelling is vitally important for any writer to learn. It doesn’t matter whether you write romance, mystery, science-fiction or non-fiction, structure is the key to creating a brilliant masterpiece. If you don’t have structure, your work will end up like jelly and it will be impossible for your readers to really become involved with your characters.
I’ve written before about starting your story at the point of change but where do you go from there? Some writers prefer to just fly by the seat of their pants and go wherever the characters take them. This is an interesting approach and I’ll bet you that 99% of writers who do this end up with ‘writer’s block’ (which doesn’t really exist). I’m not the best planner in the world because I feel if I plan too much, the story ends up flat, but I do have a very good idea of what my story is about, where my characters start and what they need to endure to get to the finishing line. This is structure or, if you will, a skeleton.
We all have a skeletal system and each bone serves a different function. So, too, does your structure. You don’t want to start your story at the point of change and then take your characters on a winding road with pretty scenery which ends up… well nowhere in particular. Neither do you want to write a tennis match where they’re moving back and forth, back and forth, scoring points off each other but not really going anywhere.
Linear storytelling means to start at the beginning, work your way through to the middle and then wind up at the resolution. You can’t take your characters from point A to C and miss B. You can’t start at C and jump back to A. Flashbacks should be used sparingly and only if they’re absolutely, 100% necessary (the same goes for prologues but that’s another article). If you’ve started your story at the point of change, then you shouldn’t need a flashback. You must keep your characters moving forward, climbing the ladder of emotional growth until they reach their euphoric ending and reap their reward.
A few years ago, my niece was having trouble with her English assignment at school. She asked me to have a look at it. It was a piece on poet John Donne, to analyse his poetry, but also give information about the author. This is a prime example of trying to work out which bone goes where. You have so many ribs, so many vertebrae and you know roughly where they all go but if you put them in the wrong position, it can jar the reader right out of the world you’re trying desperately to create. For the assignment, all I really did was help her to sort out her bones – her structure – to make it linear and she received an excellent mark.
So look at your story and figure out which bone goes where. Write a synopsis, use index cards or coloured paper for different scenes. Find a method which works for you and put your back-bone in place. Having said that, you must also know that nothing is set in stone. Bones are flexible – to a point – and you may find, when writing, that you do have a few of those ribs in the wrong spots.
The point is to make sure when you’re writing that you, as the creator, know what’s happening. If not, your characters will end up floundering in a sea of confusion and that’s the type of story which is quickly rejected by an editor.
And remember – the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone.
(well really, the tibia articulates with the femur to form the knee joint and is covered by a large triangular sesamoid bone called the patella which is within the tendon of the quadriceps femoris muscle group – but we don’t want to get too technical!)
Remember – you can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank page.
See you next time for more inspiration and instruction from The Write Place.
© Copyright, Anne Lucy Clark, The Write Place, March 2017.
06/09/2017 / Kit Densley