Edit Pass Live Stage 2: Structure Problems

So, when I last posted about things, I mentioned that I’d been having some dilemmas because of the structure of the story. I’d like to talk a bit about what I meant by that, and while I think I’ve made a decision, I don’t know if I will change my mind later, or whether I’ll realise that the story really needs to go a different way, but there we are.

When I originally conceived tKC, it was as a duology – that, I figured, was about as much time as I had for plot. I might not be capable of writing anything that’s less than 100,000 words, but I also know I run out of plot well before trilogy length, and I have a very strange relationship with changing the lengths of stories in editing passes. The lengths can quite often change, in either direction, but that seems to have little to no bearing on my actual wordcount goals for the piece.

But one of the things that I’ve realised I do when I write is that I tend to write in a sort of … two-act structure. That’s a very loose term for it and I’m not sure it warrants any title that formal. And of course, now I say this nobody’s ever going to read one of my stories without looking for this so … oops, I guess? Sorry about that? What I mean is that I tend to write stories with a breaking point, and then a climax. That is, a mini-climax in the middle where everything changes for the characters and the tension spikes sharply, then I work towards the climax at the end.

Sounds fairly simple, right?

Problem.

The way I conceived of tKC initially, as I was re-timelining, did not have a nice three breaking points before the climax – so I could put breaking point, end of Book 1, breaking point, and of Book 2. The story naturally fell into two breaking points and a climax.

This, for obvious reasons, doesn’t lend itself well to a duology. If I wrote to the first breaking point and then put the second two in Book 2, it would have felt back-loaded and uneven. If I’d put the first two breaking points in Book 1 and saved Book 2 for the big climax, I would have had severe Mushy Middle problems for most of Book 2.

Part of what makes this particularly complex is that I have three different character threads (and possibly four depending on how I decide a few things), and that means that while they don’t necessarily need climaxes at the same time, the stories at least need to have some form of parallel to make them feel cohesive, so I need to arrange their tension spikes around each other, and make sure that I don’t accidentally fatigue the reader.

So, I had a few options. First, I could try and split it into a trilogy instead. One book per breaking point, and find some minor breaking points in the middle to create my nice two-act … you know what? My blog, my rules, I’m calling it ‘turning-point structure’. It’s based around building up to a turning point that then leads to the climax. So – I do have other stuff happening between – I could line up a few of those revelations to form the turning points and then use my break points that I’d already identified as the climaxes of three books. My problem here is that I just don’t think there’s enough story for that. I think if I did that, the story would get extremely bogged down.

Second, I could try and manufacture a third turning point to make it break nicely. It could be done – there were a couple of ideas I played with. But the trick there is the multiple plot threads. I decided that was a last resort because it would create a sort of butterfly effect – I couldn’t just change one character’s plotline without moulding all the others around it, and it was just going to be  a headache. Obviously I’d do it if that was what needed to happen, but I wasn’t going directly for that option.

Third, I could elevate another conflict to the status of ‘turning point’ and use that instead. This would require a little wrangling but not as much as option 2, and wouldn’t involve coming up with too much new plot like option 1.

I think I ended up going with a mixed approach. I realised I did have a third turning point, but it occurs extremely early in Book 1, so I’d overlooked it. I think I will end up extending that a bit further into the book, and to compensate for the big stretch of just build-up in between, I do have a couple of minor tension spikes, not a full turning point but big character moments. I’ll see how it works out when I start writing.

Sorry if this is extremely confusing – I’m trying to keep things spoiler-free, so I’m not going into specifics. I hope I’ve explained things so it’s at least understandable.