Writing Structure and Accepting My Own Writing History.
This is a struggle point for a lot of writers, me included. I need boundaries, but hate being told to conform. How to defeat this?
Since starting writing all these years ago, I’ve rejected the analytical/theory side of writing, in favour of pure creation. What I mean by this is I’ve often just written, without a thought on what kind of pattern or structure I’m falling into.
But my writing is incredibly unique and can’t be put in a box! Well sure it’s unique in it’s own way, but actually yes it can be put in a box and it already is. Certainly for me.
I’m under no illusions. I’m not a visionary once-in-a-generation. I’m not going to rewrite the rules. But what I will do is start and finish my first book, with as much energy and creation as I can bring to my writing. I’ve only one life to try and do this, so I’m just going to start with what works for me.
One big shift I’ve taken in the past few years is to consider structure as the first step, before putting words to screen. Initially, I rebelled against myself and pretty much stopped writing for about a year. Upper limiting kicked in hard as I started to find a way forwards. Balls.
But the reading in that year was very important to what I’m doing now. If I was to boil it down to just two books, then it would be these two:
If you haven’t read On Writing, then it is a brilliant book well worth taking on board. Now I’m a self-confessed King fan, but only relatively recently. I’d harboured a grudge against such a bestselling author and convinced myself that I was beyond it. Thing is, I took a shot at The Stand and fell in love. He’s brilliant and absolutely one of the key authors that led me to settle and dedicate myself to this year of writing.
The Seven Basic Plots was one of those books that sat on my shelf for a few years. I’d bought it in one of my typical frenzies of planning/creativity and then never set foot there again.
Lots of my structure-fears would be overturned as I read it, which was probably the reason it sat there. Easier to not open the door than go through it and be confused/rejected.
Or at least that was the usual set up. So I went for it during the lull in writing and found it to be really tough at first, waking up to the idea that all this time, I’d basically been writing some kind of derivative of the Hero’s Journey. All of the aforementioned stories…
- seven or eight notebooks, half full of half finished ideas
- eight completed short stories, ranging from 1,000 words up to 8,000
- one of the above short stories was shortlisted to the final 6 for a science fiction magazine competition (from about 200 entries), it didn’t go any further, but it was an amazing feeling to get my name listed in a shortlist
- six more short stories but not finished, in a perpetual state of editing
- an unfinished serialised fantasy novel (about 73,000 words total) that I started when I was about 18 and added to on and off over the years. Another 15,000 words or so would finish it, but I never have
- about ten or so half-started pages of novels, never getting beyond page four or five
- a completed feature length film script, about 90 pages, which was basically my version of Underworld
- roughly fifteen short film scripts, some finished, some unfinished
…were in a familiar structure – of course there were vast deviations and a lot were almost proto-structure anyway, without even a hint of anything beyond that glorious first page. But nevertheless, elements highlighted in The Seven Basic Plots shone through.
So that was a surprise. At first, destructive, in that it questioned my own creativity. Then, empowerment. There is a well-worn path in front of me. Without even being aware of it, I had already been writing the first steps of the (Hero’s) Journey. Cracking open the longer form projects I’d done, the serialised fantasy novel for example, was quite eerie in the notes that it hit. Everything was there.
So firstly, I made a decision. This is the guts of how to defeat this – I accepted that this was my structure. Certainly for this first book. When I complete this and if I feel comfortable, I might look elsewhere on the spectrum of stories, but I want to play to my strengths for this first attempt.
Some of you might consider this a failure. A template writer. A cookie-cutter writing project. Well, I’ll be honest, without structure, I’m dead in the water. If I have to write to the idea of a cookie cutter, then so be it.
The second decision was on how to operate within that Hero’s Journey structure. How to retain creative freedom? How to look at constructive whole versus individual moments in the story? How to forge interesting characters/settings/worlds? I’ll be writing about that in the next blog.
It’s Day 25 of 365. This project is about to get real. I start writing for a solid nine months on Tuesday. 3 days time.
Thanks for reading