• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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There’s Something Happening Here

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Structure, structure, structure. What is structure? How does it work? Do you figure it out before you write, or does it emerge as the storytelling takes shape. As an editor, I always felt that the structure suggested itself after 75 pages or so. By then all the major decisions have most likely been made: point of view, tense, passage of time. My boss believed you needed a blueprint before you set out, like an architect. That was always too uptight for me. The thing about structure is it has to be there, but not show.

How do you do it?

16 Responses

  1. With fiction, I have simply followed my instincts and both the story and structure seemed to follow along. Now that I am focusing more on nonfiction, I find a strong outline is a must.

    Neither path has led me to Carnegie Hall, but I have a really shitty sense of direction.

  2. This is interesting. When I started my book, all I really had was a setting and a knowledge of my main characters and how they would come together, more or less. So, I started writing, and it was a good idea, but terrible writing. Thanks to my uncle for pointing out my mistakes early on and helping me find my voice as a writer. Once I went back and rewrote the first couple of chapters, my story really began to unfold, and eventually, the strict began to take shape. I could see what needed to be done and where the plot was headed, and start to make a rough outline. So, it all worked out pretty much exactly as you said!

  3. When I wrote DIXIE DUPREE, total pantster. There was no outline. There was no sense of what the hell I was doing. Thank you, Ann Patty and ultimately Caroline Upcher for showing me the way.

    Writing to contract is different. You have to have a proposal, and this is where I learned to outline. I love the Three Act Structure for it’s simplicity. I didn’t know I loved it until recently when, after going through treatments I realized I was having some mental fog. (Hello, chemo brain) Following this has helped me tremendously.

  4. In the beginning was the Logos …

    Structure is inherent in communications. No, I’m not trying to dodge the point.

    Structure will grow, organically, out of the choices the writer makes. The trick of the art is to shape that growth.

    There are many shapes to choose from.

    In a longer piece of work — I should say I mean a book — there comes a point where the writer must impose more structure on what is to come, as it comes, in order to pull all the strands together and make a coherent, complete work.

    Impose a structure like a blueprint from the beginning? You’re not building a house, you’re growing a garden.

    But gardens have their structures. And weeds are hoed.

    During my close encounter with an MFA program, the work the other students were doing struck me as having the lifelessness of a new suburb, the balloon frame houses assembled from prefab components by subcontractors of varying skill. But I wasn’t MFA, my training was NYC, and I took a more organic approach. How does my garden grow?

    Which is not to say I was oblivious to the need for structure in a written work, particularly one aspiring to the status of art. But this is it — whether you impose your structure from without, or you develop it from within, you’d best be aware of it. Its demands must be met.

    The subtler the structure, the better. A beautiful creature is not beautiful if all you see is skeleton (unless skeletons are the paradigm of beauty for you, which for most persons, they are not).

  5. Every time I start a novel, I plan to create a detailed blueprint that will make it easier to write the book. Because in truth, I hate plotting. It’s misery for me. Creating characters and scenes is the fun part.

    But here’s how it usually turns out:

    1. I start making random, stream-of-consciousness notes about the idea. Like talking to myself, but on paper.

    2. The story begins to emerge, and I try creating my blueprint (I call it an outline). I go back and forth between writing my crazyass notes and my structured outline.

    3. I get stuck on the outline and decide I need to write the first few chapters to find the book’s voice and pace.

    4. After writing those chapters, I make an earnest attempt at an outline. It will include the character’s call to action, a big event in the middle of the book that raises the stakes, and the climactic scene at the end. It will have lots of gaps I fill in as I go along.

    Apparently, this is my process, because nothing else seems to work for me. And incidentally, my “outline” is a posterboard with Post-it notes, and I keep it on the wall behind my desk so I can visualize the structure.

  6. I tend to be more scatter shot in my approach. I start with a basic idea (rough outline) and than just write and see where I wind up going — the end is there (although that can change, too), but I often go in all different directions along the way. It always resembles what I started out with, but with variations; like playing a song on the guitar. It begins with the basic chords, but hammer-ons, slides and other embellishments enhance the melody while the structure remains unchanged. The trick is to keep everything flowing.

    Carnegie Hall would be a dream come true, but singing for my supper in the Washington Square subway station is probably more in the likely realm of possibilities. In the concert hall, you’re expected to be good — you’d better be!– but in the subways, well, you just might surprise someone.

  7. The loveliest design on a length of paper still requires a frame of rigid material to soar as a kite.

  8. Fiction?
    I don’t know how I do it and don’t know if it works, until pub-powers tell me I did it right.

    Non-fiction? NP (No Problem)
    Beginning (grabber), middle (story), ending, (back to the grabber and let go). Done.

  9. i don’t really know how i do it, and don’t really want to know. i mean, sometimes i get vaguely curious about that, but i back away without examining it. it’s been working the way i want it to, so i don’t want to ruin it for myself by understanding how, then second guessing myself.

    yes, i know how that sounds. but i don’t care. if someone else cares how the fuck i do it, that’s their problem not mine.

    just because i don’t understand structure on an intellectual level doesn’t mean my books don’t have it. i just tell the story.

  10. With a lot of help from my e-friends. And I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m getting closer, closer, and closer. I can feel it. But only after I thought about it.

  11. Most of the people that have educations like I have and my sisters have are accused of being way too enamored of structure. My english major dad told Mom to get us into algebra in eighth grade even though girls were not invited because “math teaches you how to think.”

    The actual coursework allows one to sore with explorations of nature and design. Yet indeed most of my fellow schoolmates abhor the unfettered world of creativity. I don’t see a conflict personally.

    The best structure for a tight expression is poetry and I always love doing that. The more structure I gave it the more likely I’d say,”oh so that is what I’m feeling.” This is after the poem had been read and reread several times.

    Lawyers love to sit around and tell stories. I could see that in almost any circumstance that Dad would be thinking “what kind of story would this make?” It requires a certain distance to look on life like that. For some of us that comes easily though I’m not sure if it could be recommended to everyone.

    The question that gets asked all the time is actually “so what is the point?” (Usually it is with a humorous twist.) When one has the habit of doing that almost every moment of the day it assists with structure. Then with exposure through a lifetime of reading other’s works the question becomes “what is the point of this for others reading it?”

    But here is a way a type of my training does something else. Science is so misunderstood. The idea is to set up a hypothesis which is a guess. One can outline where you think you are going. Then hey try it. I’m going with the idea that every vignette needs a story (and as I say I think that way anyway) with the completed project having a build to the classical “moment.” It turns out just like a science experiment one has to allow oneself to fail.

    Oddly enough reading one book on something like screenwriting in thirty days got me into a mode to do this: truly study the movies. I’d enjoy them when they didn’t work! That helped me to realize just when the experiment fails. Failure can be embraced.

    So to add more “structure” to this response regarding structure almost facetiously. Think,study,explore,be,decide, experiment, fail.

    The point of this whole response is to express my appreciation of this blog. I love the way Betsy Lerner sparks comments!

    Just to rankle any former english writing teachers reading this that just love to cross out a cliche. Let’s go with this banal expression as the final denouement of the structure question. “Try try again.”

  12. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Process. The trick, the rub, the challenge is finding the process that works for you.


  13. Right away I am going away to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming over
    again to read other news.

  14. Superb, what a blog it is! This blog gives helpful information to us, keep it up.

  15. I think we have the same playlist

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