Make Sure Your Slip Isn't Showing!

I love the musical Les Miserable and I've seen it several times in several different theaters from several different vantage points. The first time was when I was in high school and the only seat I could afford was second row in the nosebleeds. I loved every second of it. Years later, same theater. same play, much different seats--fifth row orchestra. It wasn't nearly as magical this time around. When I was back in the nosebleed section I couldn't see the structure of the performance only the story. When I was up close I could see every wire, every microphone and the artificiality of the make up. That was the problem--I could see those behind the scenes details and it ruined the illusion for me. Something to keep in mind for writing.

Every author should think about structure. Whether they're a plotter with meticulous timelines, maps and outlines or a pantser who knows pretty much where things are going, but no clue how to get there, we all need to think about the structure of the novel. However, we don't want to let the curtain slip and let our readers see behind it. If it's a framework novel like Frankenstein, or the Canterbury Tales or Sorcery and Cecelia told through letters or within the larger context of a journey we need to maintain the verisimilitude of that frame. We can't allow our readers to see that it is simply just an artificial frame.

Same with those novels that aren't framework books. Whether we divide into chapters or sections, have titled chapters or quirky little quotes at the beginning of each we need to maintain that throughout the entire novel and sometimes throughout the entire series. For example, every book of the Star Circle Trilogy begins with a quote from someone associated with one of the Circles. It began as a suggestion by my senior editor at the time. In fact, he wrote most of the first one for me to give me an idea. I liked it so much and thought it added a lot of realism to the world that I continued with the other novels. I believed that it lent to the structure of the world--this convergence has been going on for generations and we do have a written record. Additionally, it  lends credence to the very end of the story when Robyn decides that she's going to collect these various Circle writings for future star bearers.

Our job, as authors, is to create a world our readers can believe in for the time they visit. Yes, it's a lot of work. Yes, it would be a lot easier to take some short cuts and just call the money silver pieces instead of tarpuls and use the flora and fauna of our backyards instead of making up anything unique to the worlds we're creating. However, I believe that it kind of like letting your slip show--a little bit embarrassing. Now, don't take that to mean that you need to rename everything--choose your battles. Enough to create the sense of a new world, a new reality, but not so much that the glossary at the end of the book is longer than the story itself.

So, the next time the blank computer screen is mocking you take a moment to think about the structure of this story. How you're going to tell the story, and the world you decide to create is as important as the plot line. Now, get back to writing and remember to keep the microphones and fly wires hidden.


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