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Novel Structures - Pros and Cons

 
Lazarus Black
(@lazarusblack)
Active Member
Posts: 22

Hi,

There are so many ways to structure a "good" novel, and lots of advice from different directions on which sells more, that I'm hoping the experience on this forum can narrow the field - even its simply a poll. As a thread, I assume others will post their own questions, too.

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Question #1 (well several related questions):

Websites abound with "Get to the story!" advice but then are ridiculously vague about how to define that.
Not every novel has to be In Media Res - or does it?
The reader has to be told what the world is before understanding how it changes in the First Turning Point, how long is that allowed to be? 1 chapter? 2? 5?

In my case, I have my instigating moment in chapter 1 (12 pages), but there is a delayed reaction through chapter 2 (12 pages) as the setup is made for what will occur starting in Chapter 3 where the change is revealed and the ramifications begin.

I have my central question and the entire story outlined in four acts and was pretty happy until I suddenly had an anxiety attack.

I'm confident in the first chapter, but when the second chapter doesn't showcase the First Turning point, I am concerned that no matter how entertaining it is (with humor and minor dramatic reversals), structural purists may reject it. Ch2 is only another 12 pages - but whats the percentage of buyers who will throw it away before Ch3?

Some advice says buyers will give your 5 chapters to validate your story. That would be great. But is that an average? a standard? or a pipe dream?

As a fix, I could move the reveal in Chapter 3 as a new Chapter 1, then turn Chapter 1 and 2 into flashbacks - but don't know if that's even a good idea. I can imagine someone saying that's a trite solution as well.

Essentially, will buyers give me at least 3 chapters?
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Topic starter Posted : January 3, 2020 5:26 am
Reigheena
(@reigheena)
Bronze Member
Posts: 69

You may benefit from studying various story structures. There is the Hollywood Formula, which is based around the 3 Act Formula. There is also the 7 Point Formula, and others (one describes the story arc as shaped by an M, but I'm not remembering the name right now)

Because the length of chapters can vary, a better way of thinking about how long you have before the first turning point is what % you are through the story. Bonus: that makes it work for short stories as well as novels.

I don't think I know any structure purists. The main point I hear from readers of if they want to continue or not is "Do I care about the character?" Part of whether or not a reader cares about a character is if the reader has gotten invested in a problem the character has. This leads to the "Get to the story" advice, which is often interpreted to mean start in medias res. That is only one way to introduce the reader to a problem. In medias res, to me, means that a reader is dropped in the middle of action with little to no context, and is actually often disorienting and more likely to throw people out. A story can be introduced in a quiet location as long as there is something a character wants that they need to struggle to get. This introductory struggle may not even be part of the big plot, but serves to introduce character and setting.

As for what to do in your specific case, hard to know without reading it. Rather than asking about hypothetical readers, my advice is to find some beta readers to give you feedback on if they are invested or confused by the way you have it set up.

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Posted : January 3, 2020 10:20 am
Lazarus Black
(@lazarusblack)
Active Member
Posts: 22

Thank you.

Your comments resonate with what I was hoping for - that structure SHOULD be content dependent and not overrule content.

Unfortunately, I’m still networking to find readers and crit-shares where we share enough of the same language to be compatible. Writing and critting are different skills.

BTW, I am very familiar with the 3&4 act and 7-point structures. This question was about the first act of a 3-4.

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Topic starter Posted : January 3, 2020 11:34 am
AndyDibble
(@andydibble)
Bronze Member
Posts: 86

Hi,

The reader has to be told what the world is before understanding how it changes in the First Turning Point, how long is that allowed to be? 1 chapter? 2? 5?
...
I'm confident in the first chapter, but when the second chapter doesn't showcase the First Turning point, I am concerned that no matter how entertaining it is (with humor and minor dramatic reversals), structural purists may reject it. Ch2 is only another 12 pages - but whats the percentage of buyers who will throw it away before Ch3?
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I think there are many ways of keeping a reader's attention:
* Humor
* beautiful prose
* Suspense (if the reader feels that First Turning Point coming even if it hasn't happened, that can work well!)
* An engaging world
etc.

I don't think many readers insist on a First Turning Point especially early in a novel, but they do need to be given reason to care about what happens to the characters and the FTP is often where the stakes are conveyed most clearly.

Consider The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. The FTP is quite a few chapters in because the core story is told within a frame story (I'm not saying what is it because spoilers). The events leading up to the FTP keep us interested because the protagonist is witty, the world is a dark and scary place filled with demons and an encroaching war (suspense), and treatment of magic is compelling. We already know the protagonist is in for major trouble even before it happens!

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Posted : January 4, 2020 9:55 am
Lazarus Black
(@lazarusblack)
Active Member
Posts: 22

Thank you!

I completely agree with all of that.

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Topic starter Posted : January 4, 2020 11:34 am
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