Monday, February 1, 2010

Let There Be Structure!

Now that I had my audience in mind, I was ready to go forth and reshape my story to fit the Young Adult Fiction mold.

This was no easy task, I’ll have you know. I wrote the first draft of my story with only a few characters in mind and an attitude of “Let’s see how they react when I throw this curveball at them” toward writing the tale. It made for fun storytelling, but my retooling of the narrative thus far had only reinforced the fact that I really didn’t have a solid framework to build my story upon. It was a beautiful example of stream of consciousness writing, but that’s all it was. Fixing this, of course, would have to be the first order of business.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to find this new structure all by myself.

Through Barbara, I was able to contact her own writing coach, the very gracious Claudette Sutherland. She read the mess that was my story at that point and helped me figure out what audience I was aiming for. Armed with that information, she put me in touch with someone who could better help me organize my story for a younger crowd, the talented and prolific Michael Scott. The two of us sat down with my modest story and proceeded to break it down to build it up bigger and better than ever.

This sounds like fun, but let me tell you, when you’ve poured so much time and energy into creating something, even the most constructive criticism feels like someone just ripped your puppy apart. The bottom dropped out of my stomach and it took all my effort not to sound defensive at every question directed at why I chose to do what I did with my little manuscript. Even then, I’m sure I looked just like I did when a bully in elementary school tore the arms off of my favorite Star Wars action figure. (Han Solo, for the record.)

All was not lost, however. To the contrary, Mr. Scott freed me from the crutches I’d used in my story so I could walk the road I wanted to travel with my story, a road that would be far more compelling to my readers than the trite journey it had been previously. While I had tossed around the idea of my story as modern-day mythology, he helped me truly focus on what sort of scope I was aiming for. I wasn’t writing for television, or even for a movie, where the size of the story is limited by time and budget constraints. This was a book about gods and mythology as they would be applied to the modern world, and it deserved the same grand scope as the earliest myths of gods and men. (Hm… “Of Gods and Men.” Future book title? I’ll keep that one in reserve.)

To this end, I was instructed to reread one of my favorite books, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and really take a look at the mythic structure and how it can be applied to modern stories. I reviewed the outline of the Hero’s Journey and measured my story by it, changing huge swaths of my narrative to give it the proper feel. The end result, once I’m done writing it, will be an epic in nearly every aspect of the word – and for a hint of what you can expect in my trilogy, check the definition posted in the entry before this one.

I also went back and replotted the original story according to the Hero’s Journey, giving it some actual, honest-to-goodness structure by writing a chapter by chapter summary of the book, then proceeded to do the same with the newly envisioned Book Two and Book Three. It’s still a work in progress as some characters become more prominent and thus necessitate a retooling of the outline to compensate for their new role in the story, but there is now a definitive beginning, middle and end to the whole thing. And while you can enjoy the Hero’s Journey as it is in Book One, the entire trilogy acts as one massive Hero’s Journey for the main characters. Heck, there’s even a Dark Hero’s Journey in place for the antagonist…

There’s more to be said for changing my mess of a draft into a functioning outline for a young adult trilogy, but that’s a story for another time. At least now you’re all mostly caught up with where I am in the process of writing my grand narrative. Stay tuned, I’m just getting started!

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