Studying Story Structure (Part The Second)

Two years ago, I wrote about studying story structure. Back then, in February 2016, I was still participating in the Writing Challenge on Twitter (let us pause for a moment to mourn that group’s demise—yes, it’s still around, but it’s not the nice supportive group it was back then) and had been studying story structure for almost a year. I originally wanted to learn about it when a beta reader read a novel of mine that was rather… amorphous. The plot just didn’t have any structure and trust me, that was not a good thing.

I’m happy to say that I’m still reading about story structure and incorporating what I learn into my writing. In the past two days, I had two epiphanies about my current work-in-progress. Just adding one element into the story is going to make it a lot more powerful. Part of the epiphany involves introducing the antagonist a lot earlier and tying that to what my protagonist wants. I think I have a good antagonist for the story but he was too much in the background and only made an appearance at the end of the novel.

I am so excited to share this novel with all of you. Believe me, I’m going to query like crazy to hopefully get a book deal and if I don’t, I think I’ll publish it myself as an ebook. Since I can’t query or publish it until it’s edited, I’m going to cut this post short while I go edit, as it’s getting rather late!


Studying Story Structure

I’ve been writing fiction for a really long time. When I was a kid, I used to come up with absurd involving my family’s pets, write them down, and have my parents read them. I’m sure they weren’t very good, but it was fun and more importantly, it hooked me on fiction writing for life.

However, life intervened and for years, I wrote only sporadically. I started a ton of novels but never finished them. I didn’t take writing as a serious daily habit until I discovered the Writing Challenge on Twitter in 2014. I actually started finishing novels then, which made me happy.

Still, there’s been something lacking in my writing. No matter how much outlining I do, the stories weren’t fully working, which has been frustrating me to no end. This has actually been bothering me for almost a year now and it’s been annoying.

There is good news, though. I was browsing a blog I like, K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors, and I discovered three great series she has on her site: The Secrets of Story Structure, How to Structure Scenes in Your Story, and How to Write Character Arcs. I’ve read every single post in these three series and I feel like they’ve changed my life.

I was vaguely aware of story structure and character arcs before, but I never truly paid attention to it. Don’t ask me why. It’s silly not to pay attention to it because it’s present in any decent story, whether it’s a novel or movie. I guess I thought I had an instinctive knowledge of it and didn’t need to worry about it.

Boy, was I wrong. I decided to apply these principles I’ve learned to an outline I’m working on and I feel like it’s making a big different. I’ve plotted most of the first act and am working on the second act. The second act is the middle of the story, which I’ve always found difficult to write. However, with this structure to guide me, it’s been slightly easier so far. Writing a novel is still hard, but at least I have some sort of structure and idea of where I’m going.

There’s a lot of information out there about story structure and character arcs and scenes and all that good stuff. As I said, I find K.M. Weiland’s blog to be invaluable. She is amazing! (And amazingly nice, as well. She replies to comments on her site and responds on Twitter, too.) There are lots of other people talking about structure as well—including those who think it’s rubbish. For now, I’m in favor of structure because it’s already helped me so much. Though perhaps the big telling point will be how this next book of mine turns out…

Do you use a structure when you write fiction? Why or why not?

Read Asimov’s Awards Finalists Online For FREE

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a lovely writer whose blog I read religiously, wrote a post a couple of days ago about something new Asimov’s Science Fiction is doing. Every year, the magazine, which is probably one of the most, if not the most prestigious literary magazines for science fiction writers, has readers vote on their favorite stories. They did that recently for 2015—and put the nominees up for free on their website. All the work looks really, really good (which is to be expected of a magazine of that caliber), so if you like short stories, novellas, and novelettes, go check it out. Kris says they’ll only be up until May, so you’d better get started reading now! 🙂

Also notice that Kris has not one, but two pieces of her work nominated, so props to her for that!


So, I may or may not be participating in this fabulous writing event I found on Twitter last night called JuNoWriMo. It’s like NaNoWriMo, which I participated in back in 2013, but a little bit less intense. There’s basically only one rule: write 50,000 words in one month. You don’t have to sign up for an account or track progress or work on something you haven’t already started. It’s very low-key, which is what I want.

You see, if I write 50,000 words this month, that means I’ll finish my current novel that I’m working on. (YES!) I love this project, I really do. It’s just I am bogged down in the middle and have another project calling to me. But, I spent years jumping around from project to project without finishing anything, so no matter how strongly and how loudly this other book calls to me, I will finish what I’m working on now before moving on to something else. I’m becoming such a disciplined writer, aren’t I?

Now, back to my current project. My characters are having a very fascinating conversation right now…

A Cute Short Story

Sometimes I think the only reason I’m subscribed to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog is for the free stories she posts every Monday. I like most of her work, but I really like her cat stories. She has one featured this week called “An Incursion of Mice.” Go read it, as it’s really cute. You can definitely tell she’s a true cat lover. And as much as I like “An Incursion of Mice,” it’s not nearly as good as “The Destroyer,” another cat story. (That one isn’t free anymore, hence the link. It’s also a lot sadder than “An Incursion of Mice,” just to warn you.)

Ukraine In Russian Science Fiction

Or, yet even more Russian-language books I have to read!

I keep forgetting to blog about this article I saw on Slate recently (it’s from July, when I first started work, so I missed it back then) called The Sci-Fi Writers’ War. It’s about Russian writers who have a conflict with Ukraine as a central focus of their novels. (Whether they truly “predicted” the current conflict in Ukraine, as the article asserts, is debatable.) The author categorizes these works as science fiction, but I think they sound more like a sort of alternate history. Admittedly I haven’t read any of these books, so I could be wrong.

Listen to the summaries of these novels. We’ll start with an author who lives in Donetsk, where a lot of the fighting is currently taking place:

A pro-Western, NATO-backed Ukrainian government faces a stubborn insurgency in the pro-Russian East. Fighting rages around Donetsk, with civilians dying in artillery fire and airstrikes, while Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border. The latest headlines? No, a two-novel series by Russian-Ukrainian science-fiction writer Fedor Berezin: War 2010: The Ukrainian Front and War 2011: Against NATO.

As if that isn’t enough, there’s more:

A forerunner of the genre, Omega, by veteran sci-fi/fantasy writer Andrei Valentinov, came out in 2005, shortly after Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution. It depicted three alternate-history versions of 2004, one of them a dystopia in which Crimea had been invaded and occupied by NATO forces in 1995; while the main characters were resistance fighters, they were both anti-Moscow and anti-NATO.

And also:

A far more straightforward vision of Russian good vs. Western evil is offered in The Age of the Stillborn by Gleb Bobrov, who like Berezin is an ethnic Russian from Eastern Ukraine (Luhansk) and an Afghanistan war veteran. The apocalyptic novel, set in a near future in which a brutal Kiev regime seeks to quash rebellion in the East with NATO help, was first published online in 2006 and became a hit on the Russian Internet before going to print in 2007.

And that’s not even all the novels mentioned.

Considering that I absolutely love this genre in English (Harry Turtledove writes a ton of alternate history that sounds a lot like these, and he’s one of my favorite authors ever), I need to read these books in Russian. I have entirely too many books to read (remember that Russian classics project I blogged about?). Believe me, every single one of these is going on my to-read list. It’s going to be amazing.

And who knows, maybe I’ll write some alternate history involving Ukraine soon.

Psychoanalyzing My Own Writing

I don't actually write with quills, thank goodness!
I don’t actually write with quills, thank goodness!

I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the most famous psychoanalyst himself, Sigmund Freud, said that you can’t psychoanalyze yourself. Despite this admonition, I find psychoanalyzing oneself to be fascinating. After all, know one knows me better than I know myself, right? That’s why I decided to write this post analyzing my own writing. I recently bought some new software for writing (Scrivener, in case you’re interested), so I’ve been in the process of converting my work to the file format this program uses. This has given me the opportunity to examine my work (I may be unpublished, but I’ve written a lot!) and spot strange little trends. So here goes:

  • The vast majority of my characters have siblings. I’m an only child.
  • Most of my characters don’t have pets. I’ve had pets my entire life.
  • Most of my protagonists are women. (In case it isn’t obvious by now, I’m a woman.)
  • However, the protagonist who is most similar to me in personality is a British man. Go figure.

Writing about writing has given me the urge to go work on my fiction now, so I’ll have to cut this entry short.

My Latest Obsession: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend Marie Lu

I bought this book – Legend by Marie Lu – last night and I am so incredibly obsessed with it. It is SO INCREDIBLY GOOD. It is in the same genre as the better-known The Hunger Games: young teenage girl lives in dystopian future and must survive while dealing with drama in her life. There’s violence and romance and rebellion.

And the thing about this book is it is a million times better than The Hunger Games. I know a lot of people will think I’m crazy, but here goes: I didn’t like The Hunger Games that much. I read the first book and liked it enough to read the second, which kept me intrigued enough to read the third. By the end of the series, I pretty much hated all the characters. Katniss was lame and hypocritical, Peeta annoyed me, and Gale annoyed me too. The only character I liked – Prim – was out of the picture and the other character I liked, Katniss’ mother, was never fully developed as a character. In fact, all the characters were very flat and one-dimensional.

What I love about Legend is how much I cared about everyone. All the characters were extremely real and the protagonist June’s character arc was especially well done. I just bought the second book (yes, this is a trilogy) and I can’t wait to read it.

An Open Letter to Authors who Write Spy Novels Involving Russia

One of my favorite spy novels

Dear authors,

I love a good spy novel. In my mind, spy novels are a sub-genre (or at a related genre) of thrillers, another type of book I love. I also love Russia and anything Russia-related. So, as you can imagine, a spy/thriller involving Russia just about makes me swoon with delight. What makes it even more amazing is the occasional Russian word or phrase inserted here and there, but don’t worry, this certainly isn’t required.

However, one thing that really, really cuts into my enjoyment of a good solid spy novel is factual inaccuracies. I specifically speak of those relating to Russia. One factual inaccuracy I often encounter is reference to the KGB in a modern (that is, post 1990s) context.
Continue reading “An Open Letter to Authors who Write Spy Novels Involving Russia”

Gabrielle Zevin’s ‘All These Things I’ve Done’

A nice cover, but the protagonist doesn't actually look like this...
A nice cover, but the protagonist doesn’t actually look like this…

I just finished re-reading Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done. It’s such a great book and I can’t understand why it wasn’t a bestseller. Zevin is a great writer with a very creative idea and I felt like I really related to Anya, the protagonist.*

The basic premise of the story is this: Anya Balanchine lives in New York City in 2083, a time when chocolate and caffeine are banned. Her father was a crime lord who sold chocolate illegally. Both her parents are dead as a result of her family’s involvement in the criminal underworld. To ensure that she and her siblings don’t end up the same way, she does her best to stay out of the family’s illegal activities. Throughout the course of the story, though, various events end up threatening her family.

This book does have a sequel, but it is not as good, unfortunately.

And even though this book is marketed to young adults, I think adult readers would enjoy it, too. I don’t know about you, but I love a good dystopian, futuristic story, and this is one of the best.

*Considering that Anya is a mobster’s daughter, I’m not sure what this says about me!