Musings On Structuring A Multi-Part Novel

As many of you know, I’m rebuilding the first novel I wrote. In fact, we’re coming up on the 5-year anniversary of the day I sat down at the computer and typed out the first words of the first version (14 April 2009). So much has changed since those heady first days when the story was new and my confidence ran high. You might think I would have everything thought out by now for the rebuild. I would be lying if I said I did.

Five years later, I’m still at it. (image credit: Microsoft clip art)

The book has changed in many ways. We still follow “one” character through an event and its impacts in alternate universes. But based on multiple beta comments, there have been major shifts. I’ve revised a version of the character whose main role was to introduce the idea of the multiverse and how we might perceive it and who then appeared again between the alternates, acting as a bridge between them—rather a Greek chorus type of role. But betas suggested she needed a real story of her own. “Setting the scenes” for the characters in the other universes wasn’t enough to hold their interest.

I’ve also dropped one of the three alternate universes—the one that was markedly different from the other two. Readers either liked that story or didn’t. But all said it was just so different from the others. That was what I was after—to show how different we could be in another reality. But it didn’t set the way I hoped. So that universe is gone, and so is everything I first wrote 5 years ago. Yes, that hurts. A lot.

Now, the “Greek chorus” character has her own story that focuses on a common event with those other two universes—no jarring differences for readers now. Readers should also notice a tighter fit to the different parts. But still I have questions. And the one for today’s post is:

How To Structure The Book?

Do I rebuild even the structural skeleton of the book this time around? Should I present each character’s story in full in a linear manner? It would look something like this:

Story Structure 1Told this way, there’s less room for confusion. I would have a great big divider between each part, making it obvious to readers that they were moving to another universe. But I see a major problem with this approach. I would need to present all of Catherine’s ideas about the multiverse in one story—her ideas about déjà vu and vivid dreams, how we might be affected by the experiences of our other selves if we intersect with them, and more. Would this be too much of an information dump in a “linked story” that will run ca. 25,000 words? Or should I strip that information to the bare bones? Would readers understand Catherine’s ideas if I did?

Another possibility is to continue to weave Catherine’s story around the others as I originally did. That format looked a lot like this:

Story Structure 2I had written the book that way to gradually introduce the reader to the nuances of Catherine’s ideas rather than dumping them all in the opening chapters. Since Catherine’s “story” was set against the backdrop of her hanging out in DC with a visiting friend, I thought it worked well to intersperse their talks around the “main” stories and expand on her ideas over the course of the book. But that seemed to cause difficulty for a number of readers. And I’m afraid dividing up a fuller story will confuse readers. When Catherine had the “chorus” role, her story was shorter.

I still like the idea of a narrator who introduces each larger story. Is a third possibility to have a version of my main character with a very limited role? Something like this:

Story Structure 3Maybe  have a physics professor talking about these possibilities in a lecture? And she would only have a couple of pages at a time to do that? Or will betas come back and again say that doesn’t work?

So I’m stumped as to which way will work best. Fortunately, I use Scrivener. And for now I can write each character’s story as if it were standalone. But if I decide to weave Catherine’s adventures around Kat’s and Kathryn’s or introduce a new “chorus,” that’s easy to do with the software.

 I’m curious what you, as readers, think of these possible structures and which one you think would work best. So I’d love for you to share your thoughts below.

 

It’s okay to be honest—really! And it won’t surprise me if replies are scattered across the possibilities. Your answers and comments, though, would help me better visualize my options.

57 thoughts on “Musings On Structuring A Multi-Part Novel

  1. Without having read it (but being aware of the general story of course from your previous blog posts about it) my inclination is towards structure 2, which seems to be the way you wanted it anyway. To me that’s the most interesting one, and it’s the one that makes me want to read the story more than the other two. You just have to find a way to avoid any confusion – simple! ;)

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    • Avoiding confusion, hmm. That’s not necessarily my strong suit. ;) So far, readers are leaning to Structure 2, but there’s always a chance another contender will come forward. I really appreciate you and others taking the time to offer suggestions. I honestly believe they’ll help me decide on the right course of action. I just hope that course is to keep going with the story!

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  2. I agree with Vanessa – the second structure still sounds like the way to go. Now, having had the privilege of being one of your betas, I have a good idea of what you’re after. I think what is needed are more definitive links between Catherine’s story and the other universes. There should be a clear segue from one to the other to support why you’re including Kat’s and Kathryn’s stories, and how they connect to Catherine.

    I still feel that Catherine needs her own story with conflict and resolution. What if her conflicts are why she “bumps” into the other universes? Then, something or someone in those universes reacts and affects Catherine, bringing her back to her story? This would help illustrate the interconnections between the universes, plus give us a reason to want to know how it all impacts your MC. I know you had a little bit of that going on, but I’m not sure the reasons she was having déjà vu moments, etc., were critical enough to make us want to know what will happen to her. If you use tension and conflict as the inciting incidents each time you venture into a new universe, that might work?

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    • Kate, that’s an intriguing idea about Catherine’s conflicts leading to the “bumps” and then something with Kat and then Kathryn “bumps” back and affects Catherine. This is a great example of why you are such a good story teller. As I mentioned to Sheila below, I’ve suspected I would write Catherine’s story last, maybe subconsciously recognizing that I need to know Kat’s and Kathryn’s final story lines first. And finding a way to weave them all together more actively may very well be the right way to go. My earlier efforts were far too subtle and only worked in my head.

      I missed the mark so widely with the previous version of this story, and I want to get it right this time. The fact that no other characters are making any demands for my time may mean that this book has to come first. (Or else the other characters think I should listen to Self-Doubt and give up writing. But I don’t want to go that route just yet.)

      I really appreciate you and others taking the time to offer insights on this WIP. Five years ago, I never dreamed I would be starting over from scratch. An if I’ve learned anything over that stretch that will help me make this a good story, it’s come from you and others who have shared your knowledge and experiences. I’ll never be able to thank you enough!

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    • So far, #2 is leading the pack! I have a sneaking suspicion that will hold, but I’ll hold off on any final decisions until I’ve had a chance to think over all the comments. Thanks for offering your thoughts!

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  3. To be honest JM, I didn’t vote because I think you’re probably the best person to choose the right structure. Go with your gut! :) The story sounds fascinating by the way. I like that you gave your gateway character a story of her own. You’re very brave to revisit your first novel. I’ve thought about doing the same, but salvaging it seems like more trouble than its worth. Maybe someday…

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    • I’m almost afraid to admit this, but part of my gut is saying I should just give up on writing entirely. I’m doing my best to ignore it, but sometimes that nagging voice is very persuasive. I love the concept of this book, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to pull it (or Death Out of Time) off in a way that readers will enjoy. However, since no other characters are apparently interested in sharing their stories with me these days, I want to keep trying with these. I know we’re supposed to write for the love of writing first, no matter if we find an audience or not. But I think the reality of story telling is that we’d like to share our creations with others—and have others appreciate them. Maybe someday I’ll reach that point. :)

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      • Stop that gut! (Add soothing food maybe)You are working with one of the most difficult concepts with time travel. It may take a while for the final path to clear – now it’s hacking blindly through the brambles…but you have the brambles. That’s the hard part…trimming and shaping takes time – ask any gardener.
        Intermeshed stories seem to be the current fashion…some I like, some not so much – but I’m not the one to ask as i like food on the plate in separate piles and eaten in sequence.
        #2 is the most natural and logical since that’s how the story appeared…but I kinda like #3…it’s interesting concept – you could stop and start reading at set points and not get confused ( my reading time is so interrupted) 3 seem efficient.
        In any case, I have to say when I saw the first illustration, I though “OH an arts and crafts project – I lover visual arts!” (OK not really, RC saw that and was quite excited). Sometime you need to tape paper to the walls. Great post – will be interested in results
        Meanwhile, Chocolate?

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        • Chocolate sounds like the perfect comfort food just now, except for the fact that I’m trying to take off a few extra pounds…. In the original version, Catherine’s story acted like that “small bit” in Structure 3. A different character had a story of her own in that version. But Catherine’s role was unsatisfying for readers, so I’m afraid going back to a “small bit” would only bring back an earlier problem. But giving Catherine a fuller story means finding the right way to break it up so that readers aren’t confused as she pops in and out. Sigh. Those brambles are really thick and thorny right now, making it hard for me to think clearly.

          I have to find the fun in writing again, which is part of next week’s post, or I’ll never be able to finish a story. Yes, good writing involves a ton of hard work, sweat, and tears, but it should also have its fun times. I’ve lost track of those, and I’m not sure how to find them again. Maybe a glass of wine might help….

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          • What would probably help is nice spring weather and escaping outside free for a bit…until then, wine and dreams of vineyards will have to do (there are some not too far away? Sounds like you need a road trip more than anything)

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            • Many vineyards in Maryland and Virginia, some of which are very good. Spring has finally arrived, and some trees have started blooming. I’m hoping the fresh air will help clear my head. There is some upcoming travel, which hopefully will help!

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  4. It’s hard for me to say without better knowing the material, but structure two or three seem to be good choices as long as that third viewpoint (whether Catherine or a different narrator) has something interesting going on in their own world. Something to keep the readers riveted. It can be small, but if the third viewpoint is only relaying information, that might slow things down.

    Sorry if I’m missing the point or haven’t addressed your question–I haven’t had a chance to read the other comments. But I wish you luck in making your decision. It can be tricky knowing the best way to proceed. I suppose it comes down to what will make things most clear to your reader while also keeping them turning the pages. Oof, it’s not always easy, is it? :/

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    • No, it’s most definitely not always easy. :\ And I worry if I can write this story in a way that will resonate with readers as much as it does with me. Having failed the first time around, I’m a bit gun shy about how this version will go. When a draft is ready for betas, I already know I’ll have a hard time sending it out.

      Don’t worry — you didn’t miss the point at all, and I really appreciate you taking the extra time this week to comment! Being at a conference is a perfectly valid reason for taking time off from blog reading. :) In my first version, Catherine’s “bits” did bog down readers and triggered a number of comments about needing something more happening in her world. So maybe I should just chuck any idea of introducing a version of her with a smaller role… Decisions, decisions. And what if I end up making the wrong one like Sheldon did with Beta and Zune? ;)

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      • I haven’t seen the latest Big Bang episode. Hope I remembered to set the DVR for it last week and this week!

        I read a book called ‘People of the Book’ by Geraldine Brooks. In that, the main character–who actually wasn’t in it that much–linked the book from one story to the next (the premise follows a sacred Jewish text through centuries and different cultures). The MC was needed to link the transformations and fill in necessary details, but the author also gave her an interesting subplot of her own so it kept the reader hooked. I wanted to know how things ended with her just as I did with the book itself. I’m not sure if that’s on target with what you’re thinking of doing, but if so, you might want to check it out.

        And of course, I’d come by to check out your weekly post. :)

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  5. I like the “go with your gut” advice and the #2 idea of weaving the stories together with Catherine’s story. That seems like it could be the most mysterious way if Catherine’s story explains some things here and there about the different universes. I don’t think everything needs to be explained up front because for me as a reader, when there’s any kind of a mystery involved that’s what hooks me.

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    • I’m just hoping the part of my gut that whispers “Give up the writing” isn’t the part that will win. You and Kate have offered some intriguing ideas about making Catherine’s story “more interactive” with the other two. That’s something I really need to consider. I’ve suspected that I would end up writing most of her story last. Maybe subconsciously I’ve been thinking that I need to know what happens with Kat and Kathryn before I can structure a good story for Catherine…. Great food for thought!

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  6. I am currently reading a novel that has a similar structure to no.1. It’s title is Laura by Vera Caspary. It’s an old book (1942) and it’s part of research I’m doing for a blog post.

    The book is clearly divided into 5 parts; Part One…Part Two etc. Part One is a friend of the suspect. Part Two and Three is the Detective’s view point… Part Four is Laura’s viewpoint (who is a suspect in a murder case)..Part Five is again the detective’s viewpoint. All parts are written in the first person.

    The novel works well because each part centers around Laura (after all that’s the title of the book).

    So, your novel might work well with structure 1 as long as Catherine is woven into each part. She is your main character so she has to be present throughout your novel.

    Of course, not having read your manuscript I may off course altogether.

    I hope this helps. :) Good luck.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! This book has occupied much of my creative brain for 5 years, and I need some outside perspectives. I really appreciate you and others taking the time to help me out.

    I’ve set myself a difficult row to hoe with this story. Finding a way to make it both understandable and enjoyable for readers will require finding the right structure. I know we’re told to write for ourselves first, but based on beta reads of the previous version, that didn’t work as planned. ;) For this rebuild, I need to figure out what will be best for the reader—even if that’s not the way I might have preferred. If I want an audience beyond me, I have to get that right!

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  8. Are the stories intertwined in a way where all three characters will interact together? Do they all live separately from each other and only Catherine is aware other universes exist? To me, the best structure is what will help you maintain a clear plot that builds momentum to a climax and then offers a resolution where we see Catherine (or all three) as a changed individual because of her experiences.
    To me, all of the structures you have above make it seem like three separate stories and I’m wondering why is it in one book if they have nothing to do with each other?
    You have lots of great advice in the comments. As was pointed out, you’re the author so you know (in your gut) what structure will present the story in the way the reader needs to hear it.

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    • I’ve always enjoyed linked stories, even when the characters don’t necessarily know about the connections. I really like the way a well done set of stories can weave together the author’s ideas and bring the reader to a deeper understanding than might be found in a full-length novel that focuses on one or two characters. This book takes the theory of the multiverse as a base and explores how our lives might be similar and different in a universe where we made different choices or events went differently from our own.

      So while the three versions of this woman aren’t consciously aware of each other, they do have experiences where unknowingly they’ve intersected with each other. It’s Catherine, with a lay interest in string theory, who speculates that experiences such as deja vu or vivid dreams might be our subconscious minds picking up signals from an alternate self in another universe.

      It’s not an “easy” story, and that’s probably one reason I’m still working on it 5 years later. But I love the characters and want to share their adventures in an entertaining and gripping way. Your thoughts and those of other readers here will help me get there. So thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

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  9. There seems to be a clear consensus here. Readers don’t care for info dumps, and prefer to learn about the characters and plot little by little (option #2, which is what I also chose). If readers learn everything all at once, what’s the point of continuing with the story? The trick is how to pull that off as a writer. One of the things I didn’t like about The Time Traveler’s Wife was all the back and forth. There are lots of novels that are structured this way, but the transitions in this novel were too abrupt for me (I realize that was the point, that the time traveler was constantly moving between worlds with no control, but I didn’t work for me). One of the things I love about writing is learning as I go. Revisions almost always improve a story, even if only a little, but feedback from readers always helps work out the problems. I’m also restructuring my novel, and I like both versions that are currently swimming through my head. I’m considering writing two different versions to see which works best. Lots of work, yes, but it would be an enjoyable learning experience. I really like what Phillip said, above. It’s your story, so in the end, go with your gut.

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    • My main concern about my gut is the part of it that says to pack it in on the writing front…. But I think your comments and those of others are giving me a lot to consider, especially when it comes to Catherine’s story. It may be that subconsciously I’ve been aware that I need to understand how the other two are going before I can put hers together properly. If she’ll be “bridging” the other complete stories, her story has to grab readers immediately and also stay in their minds for when we rejoin her. That will take some doing, and I guess we’ll see if my skills are up to the task.

      I had a hard time with The Time Traveler’s Wife, too, and that frequent time shifting is one reason I’ve always kept Kat’s and Kathryn’s stories as single units. I think I’d confuse readers completely if we jumped around three universes every chapter or two. Most would likely throw down the book in disgust if they had even picked it up in the first place. That’s really not the outcome I’m after!

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  10. Wow! This is some serious stuff. I don’t know if this will help, but here’s what I do whenever I get stuck on a structural issue in my book: Get a whiteboard. A huge, massive whiteboard that takes up half your wall. Spend a day or two (or however long it takes) mapping out all of the different elements of your story. Having a way to visually draw lines and seperate different sections really helps me, especially for those bits that get so complicated it becomes impossible to keep track. Anyway, good luck with it all!

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    • That whiteboard sounds like a good idea. I can do a smaller-scale version on my computer with Scrivener’s corkboard, but it’s not the same as a large-scale visual. Maybe I should be more like that figure in my first graphic…. And moving around might get the blood flowing more, which might kick my brain into a higher gear. Heaven knows I need that for this manuscript!

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  11. I was thinking about the removal of one of the three alternate universes. Why do you need to scrap that – can’t you re-use the material and turn it into a new story? (I only say this because I hate throwing things away that I’ve worked hard on).

    I voted for #2 ;)

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    • I could turn it into another story. In fact, my mother would LOVE it if I did. It was her favorite universe. ;) Readers have actually said that each universe could be its own full-length novel. But that’s not how I’ve envisioned any of them. Never say never, though, right? So maybe someday Katarina O’Donnell and Mihailo could have their day in the sun….

      #2 is running away with the poll. It’s where I’m leaning. But it’s also possibly the most difficult…. ;)

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  12. We agree with Vanessa & Kate #2. We’re amazed at your time spent & tedious work in perfecting your story which only leads us to believe more than ever that this story is going to be unfreakingbelievable!!! Sorry for the crazy word but its the only word we felt would do it justice!!! LOL ;) Like Rhiannon we surround our writing room walls with poster boards and breakdowns of plot, character analysis, chronological order in our book we’re working on now. Although it helps, it can get overwhelming & time can often be the only way to make it fall into place. Good luck & can’t wait to read yours!!!

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    • Time may be the key variable that I ignore too much. I tend to force myself to sit with a manuscript, even when I’m stuck. There’s a lot of non-movement there, which means wasted time. It might be better to step away for “a time” and let my subconscious work on the problems while I’m doing something else: reading, watching TV, taking a walk….

      And, at times, the complexity of the story is overwhelming. No matter how I structure it, there’s nothing simple about it. And yet I can’t let it go, even when I feel like I’ll never get the story or characters right. I thought I shelved it forever early last year. And then in August, the characters started whispering about changes to make it “work” for readers in this universe. I think the changes are good. But then Self-Doubt creeps in and says things like, “You thought the first version was good, and it wasn’t.” And so I worry about repeating the same old mistakes instead of having fun with the new ideas. More on that in next week’s post. ;)

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    • I do, too. But doing it in a way that doesn’t confuse readers is critical! Some how, some day, I think I’ll figure it out. But just now, I feel like “The End” is a million million miles away, and I’ve just taken the first step.

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      • Yes, it’s important to not be too confusing, but it strikes me that one person’s “confusing” is someone else’s “deliciously complex plot”.

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  13. Whew! Great subject. Let’s see if I can comment without going on too much. First of all, I was shocked you knew the day you first started this novel. I’ve been working on my first fiction novel for years now, but I couldn’t begin to tell you the day I started … not even the year. It might be 5 years ago, or 4 1/2, but no less than 4.

    I voted for the interweaving, but I think it depends on how smoothly and tightly it’s written. Something like this would be a great challenge for my writer’s group to help you with. It’s too bad we don’t live near each other. My critique group has certainly helped each other with tightening novels that have complicated structures like yours. Perhaps you could find a local writer’s group, or maybe an online writer’s group. When I say online, I don’t mean a forum-type writer’s group. I think a group that passes along their submissions in emails with each other works well. Our group started at the local Barnes & Noble. Maybe you can check there? Good luck. I like the sound of this one.

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    • If my husband and I didn’t move around so much, a writer’s group would be good—and if I could overcome enough of my shyness to join one. Even staying at the same job, we’ve moved from place to place over the last nine years, and we’ll be doing it again this summer.

      But that’s where this wonderful blogging community has been so helpful. I’ve found some wonderful beta readers, and I can turn to them with other questions, too, as they come up. Being as introverted as I am, though, I probably don’t reach out to them enough when Self-Doubt takes hold. I always assume they’re busy enough with their own lives and writing, and I don’t want to take valuable time away from them. They’d all probably tell me I should, though.

      This story has so much potential. I really want to get it right. But it won’t be easy….

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  14. JM I know you say your gut is telling you to quit but I sure hope you fight that off! I’ve seen enough of your writing to know you have what it takes. I’ve been wanting to read this novel since I first read about it in one of your blog posts way back. Funny that your original vision is what readers think will work best. I voted for #2 as well :)

    I just think time travel is such a complex topic, but with every little bit of the story you reveal I grow more interested in reading it. I think spring, warmth, sun and some time away will all help to rejuvenate you.

    Keep at it. Don’t give up! :)

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    • Spring is finally here, and I hope it will help! And yet, at least for now, I still question whether I can write a story that will leave readers saying, “Yes! I enjoyed this!” at the end. I’ll be expanding on that idea more in next week’s post. I think every writer goes through periods of major self-doubt. Maybe I do it more than most. And maybe I need to step away from blogging even once a week. There’s no denying the cold, hard truth that my writing decreased when I started blogging. Part of that was gaining fantastic betas who showed me clearly where my weaknesses could be found. But the time spent writing blog posts and reading so many other blogs also meant less free time for writing. It’s a terrible conundrum with no simple one-size-fits-all answer for everyone.

      I don’t want to give up. But not knowing how to move forward is so hard….

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  15. Not having read the story as a whole, I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer from a salable structure standpoint. But, I will say that when I read an author who enjoys the work, including the nuances of structure, which may include some mystery at the outset, that enjoyment shows through in the text, itself. I understand that compromise is important for sales, but sometimes we have to stick to our guns. If your passion lies with telling the story one way, JM, I think you should stay with that way. We shouldn’t have to talk down to any reader, even if they may represent the common denominator of what’s easily marketable. If some readers don’t get it right away, that’s okay: the story then becomes a learning process, and they get to discover the mystery or conflict along with the characters.

    I know it’s easy for me to preach this from my pony, but I do sincerely think we as writers should enjoy the story as much as the reader gets to do when it’s all said and done.

    If you’re truly concerned about the structure for your readers, though, you can always just keep 2 versions. One for you, and one for the masses. ;)

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    • I think the two versions already exist. ;) The one I sent out for beta reading in 2013 was the version my characters and I wanted to tell. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. But the stories unfolded as the events in their lives really did. (Okay, plenty of people will question my sanity here.) And those “real” events didn’t work as fiction in this world.

      So if I want to reach a wider audience, I have to do something different. And the characters are doing all they can to help create events that will satisfy some number of readers. The biggest problem I’m facing is that I’m questioning whether any full-length novel I write will ever pass muster, which is taking the fun out of it. Next week’s post will explore that issue in further depth.

      Other writers have said that to have such doubts is a sign that one is serious about writing. But if I can’t get past these thoughts and really write, then am I serious enough? And is being serious enough? There’s a quote about writing success being 10 percent talent and 90 percent perseverance. But when all is said and done, do I have the 10 percent talent?

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      • I wonder if the real line needs to be drawn not between “serious” and “fanciful” but between being “serious” and being “(just) serious enough.”

        I enjoy the fun in your writing. Part of that fun comes through with your play of craft and technique as well as characters and plot. It’s rare that any story will ever be perfect. The balance of your enjoyment and passion should be equal to the task of creating the story for a wider audience.

        That’s just my opinion, though.

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  16. Not being one of your beta readers, I haven’t seen any of it and therefore this may be completely off-base. I can imagine that one might shift from one story to another when a particular point of contrast between them arose. This would mean moving back and forth between them some unspecified number of times. It would probably have to be set up by giving each character a short bit at the beginning so the reader tumbles to the fact that there are going to be multiple “takes” on the same story. I wouldn’t say it’s a better way. It could only be one if it worked. I don’t even know if that’s clear?

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    • Your idea is clear—whether I could be the same with my writing might be another story. As I go through this rough stretch with self-doubt, I’m not sure I’ll manage it at all. But I’ll keep trying, at least for the foreseeable future. If this story ever does go anywhere, there will have been a lot of effort and a number of false starts behind it….

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  17. I very (VERY) much like structure 2. It speaks to me in a way that the other two seem to lack and, based on your explanation of the purpose of Catherine’s story, I really do feel that it will work well. Saying that I’ve not read any of the piece, nor do I know anything about the characters, but for me, structurally, option two is the one that holds my interest the most.

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    • #2 is the runaway favorite in the poll, and I’m leaning that way myself. Although, if I could come up with a cool “mini-bit,” I wouldn’t rule it out…. ;)

      I’ll be walking a fine line, no matter the format. Related stories like this don’t appeal to everyone. And as Clowie pointed out above, “confusing” for one reader might be “deliciously complex” for another. There’s no way for any book to satisfy every reader, and I have to keep that in mind as I figure out the details of each story within the book. Maybe once I have a more complete version of Kat’s and Kathryn’s stories, things might become clearer for me. I certainly hope so!

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      • That’s true. It’s hard to please everyone and crazy to try, but I suppose once you hit on what feels right to tell the story in the best possible way you’ll have your answer.

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  18. Please don’t give up JM! The novel I’m finally getting ready to submit was twenty years in the making – I’m certainly not wishing 20 years worth of writing it on you and of course I didn’t spend an entire 20 years writing it – it grew with me as I got older and as I gained confidence as a writer – maybe this is where some of your doubts come from – as you change as a writer you’re questioning things you were once surer of. That doesn’t make the original ideas wrong, but I do find that as I mull over a story, other ideas come in. Sometimes I can feel the cogs of my brain trying to turn as I agonize over how to make it work, but eventually, something will come and it’ll feel right. So in terms of structure it ultimately has to be what feels right for you. But I will say that I’ve read a few novels where the interlinking stories were kept separate and it’s frustrated me, because I wanted to get back to the story I’d become involved in already. On the other hand, there have been some books I’ve read that are more interlinked, but I still want to get back to the first story because the second doesn’t speak to me as much – I guess the key is to make each one as interesting as the next, but bearing in mind that I want some resolution to the story I’ve just spent so much time getting into.

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    • As I wrote my upcoming post, I realized I’m not ready to give up. But I do need to make some changes in things I’m doing and how I’m doing them. I don’t mean to be frustratingly vague, but I don’t want to dive into that post’s territory here in these comments.

      You raise a really good point about our growth as writers and how that can affect some of our earlier works if we don’t completely shelve them. One of the main reasons why so little of the original “Crossroads” will be in the final version (whenever that is ready) is because I recognize now how “immature” the writing was. There were some good bits. But they were too few and too far between. Now that five years have gone by and I’ve learned so much more about writing, maybe the newer ideas will resonate with readers the way I want them to do.

      At some point, when the new version is drafted, I’ll need to send it to a variety of beta readers and see how the structure I choose sets with them. If reactions are mostly positive, I’ll likely stick with it. But if too many readers have a problem, I might have to rethink what I’ve done while also staying true to the story I want to tell. Maybe the concept is so challenging that I’ll need 20 years to work on it. If that’s the case, I hope other ideas will come to me that can be written—and finalized—before then.

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  19. Sorry to be so late weighing in…I was with clients all week and tried to respond via my smart phone but apparently I wasn’t smart enough for it to post.
    Anyway, I agree with everyone who said not to listen to your gut. At least not about the question about whether you should write. Too many of us enjoy your writing and would miss it terribly if you stopped.
    I for one am glad you’re working on your Catherine stories. I like Structure 2 for reasons already stated. Plus it allows you to build in cliff hangers into Catherine’s story which creates a page-turner.

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    • I’ve heard so many complaints about the WordPress phone apps that I didn’t even bother downloading one for my S4. The iPad version is frustrating enough, so I decided against another headache…. Especially when I’m a terrible typist on my phone.

      I’m not ready yet to give up. I learned that as I wrote the upcoming Tuesday post. But I do need to make some changes and decisions in my approach to writing if I’m ever going to finalize a story and go for publication again. I don’t think these characters want to give up, either, but we’re all stumbling as to how to proceed. Taking some pressure off myself in other areas may help. And that’s where the next post fits in.

      You are one of several people who understands how much work is still needed before this story will work for a wider audience. So I greatly appreciate your supportive words that it’s worth pursuing.

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  20. Two of the most amazingly structured books i EVER read were The Passage, and The Twelve, the first two volumes of a trilogy by Justin Cronin. (Book 3 is yet to be published: I assume it will be equally well done)
    Book 1 is 766 pages, and takes place over hundreds of years…but not in linear fashion of past, present, future. The chapters jump around, with time periods heralded by diaries, ­e-mails, maps, newspaper articles or legal documents, whichever is applicable to the era of the moment. Craziest, most involved narrative ever, but I’m sure this trilogy will be a classic—it really IS that good, and the structure works because the author never leaves a loose end.
    Have you read these books at all? I really think you’d love them, JM!

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    • It sounds like quite the read—and far more complex than what I have in mind! I’m shying away, though, because I’m really not comfortable with apocalyptic-type stories. But what the Amazon reviews show is that when an author has gripping characters and story lines, readers are likely to follow him/her on even a difficult journey through a complex structure. That’s heartening! Of course, it also requires the writing chops to pull off, which is where I’m struggling these days. But if I’m growing enough as a writer, maybe I can pull off a less complex structure with success, too….

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  21. I read Sarah Douglass’ series called the Troy Game which the characters are reborn into different times and follows a chronological structure. The characters evolve over time. It perhaps is one of the most clever and entertaining series I have read. May be worth reading.
    Also have you considered writing each of your characters’ stories as a novella? Each independent of each other yet part of a series? Just an idea.
    It’s not easy to re-structure a ms especially when you have in mind how you want to tell it. You’ve made some hard decisions cutting and rewriting. It hurts I know, but you will have a great story when it’s finished. :D

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    • I’ve had several readers tell me that each of the stories could stand on its own. And that’s good. But I really want to keep them linked, which has always been my preferred way to tell them. And that’s why I’m probably being stubborn and trying to find the best way to interweave them. ;) Once of these days, I will get it right! Whether an audience agrees with me could be another matter. But I hope to find the right presentation that will find at least a small, appreciative audience. :)

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  22. I like option 2, but that’s just a gut reaction. I think only you can figure out how best to tell your story. And if something isn’t working sometimes it take a while to figure out why and what the fix is. It might help to find a workshop on story structure to take–if they offer any in your area or online. You’ve got a unique structure and I think it would be a challenge for any author to execute.

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    • Oops, I had to reset my “comment closing” period to reply. :) This is one of the great advantages of Scrivener. I can draft out the different parts as stand alones, but then will be able to easily format them once I make the final choice. I still like the idea of weaving Catherine’s story around the other two, which would each stand in full. Kate’s suggestion that something could be acting as a trigger for those shifts is an intriguing one that I’m mulling over. If I’m really meant to write this story, which I think I am, then at some point I will figure things out!

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