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Searching for structure

I am reading about structure. All stories have that, they say. All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

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There should be three acts. I have learned that, from books about heroes and journeys and protagonists and antagonists.

And there should be conflict. All good stories are driven by conflict. The conflict centers around a dilemma. A dilemma is a problem that cannot be solved. It can only be resolved, or altered, or modified, by a change of perception.

There are no answers. There is only exploration, of the story that I have within me, and which by exploration can be let loose, and come alive on the page.

The blank page. Right there in front of me.

And there should be beats, and scenes, each with mandatory steps – inciting incident, complication, crisis question, climactic decision, and resolution.

It turns out that these steps apply on different levels. This sounds rather cool, I would say. They apply, in micro-scale on individual beats, and on a somewhat larger scale on scenes. And they also apply on acts, and for the whole – for the global story. Almost like a fractal.

I am trying to make sense of the above things. I have this goal of putting together a new book. And then one more. And then perhaps a series.

Why, one may ask?

I cannot answer that one clearly enough. Perhaps it is a test. To see if it can be done. Before it is too late.

These are my current, favourite references in this endeavour:

  • The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. I purchased this book in 2011, and I used it a bit in my previous project. This time I intend to follow it, and to go through the ninety day scheme that is presented in the book. I think it is a good way to make sense of the structure questions, while still holding it loosely enough so that it does not feel artificial and constructed.
  • The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. Here I learn about the structure, and the steps mentioned above, and a lot more. There is also a running example, where the author applies the Story Grid to The Silence of the Lambs. The book is very well written, and very instructive.
  • From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler. This book is the opposite of structure. It may help you to make a story come alive, and to make the reader feel something, and not just be informed. I have written about this book also in another post.
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Why is it so much harder near the end?

It’s like a long, and sometimes also winding, road, that gets narrower, and narrower, and narrower …

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It can also be seen from the word count. I started it with a bang, in NaNoWriMo 2011, going from 40000 to 50000 words during the last 3 days of that rainy and cold Nordic November month.

Then it was time for a well-deserved Christmas break.

A new year started, and I was determined to finish my work. My plan was to continue adding text to the draft, and then do a revision and rewrite of the whole thing. As it turned out, I later decided to publish rewritten scenes, one by one, on this blog.

Although the idea of NaNoWriMo was to create a complete first draft, there were a lot of holes to fill. I have continued to add words (and also rewrite) during 2012, and as we now start a new year I expect I will add another 10000 words before I am done.

Here you can see the word count for 2012.

word_count_2012_larger

From the graph above you can see that there is a steady increase in word count, but it tends to slow down as we approach the end of the year.

I have this feeling that it gets slower and slower. So what can be done about this? Why is it so hard to finish?

Being partly an academic person, I should of course look for an answer in the available literature.

The first time I read about fear was in Linchpin. I learned that we tend to listen to our primitive feelings of fear, designed to protect us from dangerous animals wanting to eat us alive. And that we use these feelings as excuses for not finishing our work. In the materially safe world of today (at least when comparing with the pre-historian Flintstone-inspiring world) it is of course not so smart to listen to these primitive feelings.

Instead we should sit down and Do The Work.

We could also listen to what other, more famous, persons have to say. As an example, I can recommend the article How to Break Through Your Creative Block: Strategies from 90 of Today’s Most Exciting Creators from the always excellent Brainpickings site.

There is also a good article – very appropriate for the topic at hand – at Write It Sideways, called 3 Steps to Overcoming ‘Almost Done’ Syndrome.

Often, in advice for getting the writing done, there is a time aspect. Like if you set aside a certain amount of time, and dedicate this time to writing, then things will happen. This is practiced in a technique called the Pomodoro technique, which I became aware of during a visit to my work from a book company representative. I received a free copy of a book about the Pomodoro technique, where it was said that I should purchase a timer, and set it to 25 minutes. All work should then be done in 25 minutes intervals!

John Cleese also says that you should set aside a certain amount of time, when you desire to be creative.

Based on these advice, I have tried the time technique. I set aside two hours for non-fiction writing and one hour for fiction writing. And those days when I had the discipline to follow it, it surely worked. Words got written down, software was developed, and the idea of thinking in quantity rather than quality really helped (to get things done).

Perhaps it is possible to follow this example, from the always interesting Copyblogger site, where it is described how a person became very productive by setting aside a certain amount of time every day: How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day.

Do you, dear reader, have similar experiences as the ones described above?