I’m a big Planner. From Legends of Windemere to Life & Times of Ichabod Brooks, I set things up before I really get started. I look at this as a first draft in a way because it helps me lock in main events and get an idea of character paths. Others do the same, but I’ve noticed that it doesn’t always look the same. The overall structure of the book can take many forms. I’m just going to mention mine and maybe others will talk about theirs in the comments. Perhaps other posts too because I don’t think people discuss their own layout style as much as their writing style.
I do chapters, which isn’t something rare. I aim for 13-18 chapters when doing a novel, but it does depend a lot on the story itself. There have been some that come in short and fall under novels. Short story collections don’t get this treatment either, but I’ll get to that later. Using chapters allows for transitions to happen ‘off page’, mid-story suspense, and jumping between several concurrent storylines. Of course, everybody knows this, so I’m just doing an overview.
One thing I do that isn’t as common is using a Prologue. Technically, this could be Chapter 1, but I use it to set up the main story. We’re told that the main hero should be introduced in the opening pages, but that can be a problem if you want to create foreshadowing of the events he or she will face. So, the Prologue works as a buildup to the main event. You can show characters who are working behind the scenes or are meant to show up later. For example, I used the Prologues of Legends of Windemere to show what Baron Kernaghan, his agents, and the Gods were doing leading up to the events of the story. With War of Nytefall, I do the same only the characters involved tend to be more central. For these, I try to develop an aura of mystery and suspense about the overall adventure.
Chapters are fairly straightforward in my opinion, but there are the smaller divisions that can show a great variety:
These are the sections of a chapter, but you only get them if your chapters are divided. If you aren’t adding multiple events/locations into one chapter then the overall section is the scene as well. As before, you can get suspense and transitions out of these jumps, but you have to be more careful. While a chapter can span days, a scene change tends to be more hours unless you’re skipping large chunks of a journey. It’s harder to move locations as well, but it’s doable if you want the focal scene to get a time skip. For example, I could write one scene where Clyde and Mab are planning a heist then put another scene with Chastity and Titus talking about another aspect of the story. After that, I go back to the heist as it occurs instead of showing the hours that lead up to it. In this scenario, the real difference between chapters and scenes is page length.
My personal usage of scenes varies depending on what I’m writing. Short stories are all scenes with no real chapters. A book will have the chapters divided into 2-4 scenes. I typically only do 2 for a Prologue or final chapter. Most commonly, I do 3 to create a beginning/middle/end movement for whatever event is taking place. This can still happen with 4 (or the rare 5), but I feel more comfortable with 3. That isn’t to say I try to cram things in or be vague simply to hit that number. Many times, I’ll take an outline to merge scenes that go together or divide one that seems to be jumping. This is where my structure can be fairly flexible.
So, what kind of structure do you use for writing?