Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: Structuring Your Novel

This post originally appeared at on 9/24/2013.

As a "pantser" writer, me and structure/outlining don't necessarily go together naturally. Oil and water, we are.

However, every writer should continue to learn about her craft, and that's where K.M. Weiland's new book, Structuring Your Novel, comes into play. I was absolutely delighted, I must say, when K.M. asked me to be an early reader, as I was for her last nonfiction book, Outlining Your Novel. Even so, being in a bit of a hectic time of life, I'm getting to the actual reviewing a bit late. But, that old adage is true: better late than never.

Being a pantser means I don't usually pay attention to structure, whether it's outlining or otherwise. I've only actually ever used an outline with success once, and that was for NaNoWriMo back in 2009. Yet, K.M.'s previous non-fiction book left me thinking, and while I'm still not an outliner, I can honestly say I recognize the merits of outlining, and when I'm stuck, will sit down and outline the next few chapters to get me going again.

I approached Structuring in much the same way. I'm a pantser: what can this book do for me?

Well, a lot, I'll say that. Not so much a "how to" book, more a "these are the qualities of a strong book" book, Structuring Your Novel uses examples from familiar books and movies to describe fundamentally how all successful stories are arranged, what readers and viewers expect. Surprisingly enough, if you've read enough quality books or watched solid movies, you probably intuitively know a lot about story structure. But, K.M. lays it out perfunctorily so you can understand why you need to do XYZ by a set point in the story, for instance, having all your major characters introduced by the first plot point, around the 25% mark in your story.  

What I learned most: I don't have to outline my novels, but I should sit down and at least figure out if my drafts are in line with what typically happens in a book. Is my first plot point too early? Too late? What can I do to adjust its timing?

Additionally, I really enjoyed the second and third parts: Part Two is on Scene Structure, and Part Three is a short piece on Sentence Structure. Some of "Scene Structure" will be familiar if you've been following K.M.'s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, but it's nice to have the refresher in an easy-to-snag spot on my Kindle. Sentence Structure really is a crash course in many do's and don't's common in early novels: repetitiveness, ambiguity, pompous words, etc.  

Who needs this book: Every fiction writer who wants to get a better handle on the elements of storytelling, outliner and pantser alike. While newbies especially would benefit, those of us who are old-hands at story (whether published or not) can use the refresher, and gain new insights into how to tell a superb story. Maybe we will realize we need to move some bodies around in our stories because of Structuring. (That's a little murder mystery writer humor!)

Structuring Your Novel is available through (and other booksellers) for $4.99 for Kindle. Paperbacks cost $11.48. Whichever version you pick up, it is well worth the cost. Getting a solid grasp on structure--even if you're a pantser like me--will help make you a better writer, and in the end, isn't that what all of us writers want?
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