Exercising Your Story Structure Muscle

Much of the work I've been doing lately is studying story structure, particuarly the structures of mysteries.

As much as I enjoy the reading, it's tedious work, but I think it's necessary. At the recommendation of more than a few writers/writing guides, I have gone so far as to re-type chapters of novels so I can take a closer look at both the writing and the structure.

Today's task has been identifying the basic structural elements of several chapters in Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi. I've chosen this book because Sue is one of my favorite authors and the structure of this book is similar to what I've already written for Diary of Bedlam. The elements I'm looking at today are Characters, Locations, and Purpose.

Characters
1) Introduced (Which character(s) appear for the first time)
2) Mentioned (and will apparently be introduced later)
3) Main interactions

Locations

Purpose
What does this chapter accomplish for the story

To use Chapter One as an example:

Introduced:
Kinsey Millhone (MC)
Nikki Fife

Mentioned:
Laurence Fife (Victim)
Con Dolan
Charlie Scorsoni

Main Interaction:
Nikki Fife

Locations:
Kinsey's Office
Kinsey's Car

Purpose:
Sets up case. Nikki Fife, convicted of her husband's murder eight years before, hires Kinsey Millhone to find out who really killed him

Going chapter by chapter by chapter, I can see how characters are gradually introduced, how each chapter progresses the novel, and how many scenes are generally used per chapter. Going back to my own novel, I can check and see if I may be introducing or mentioning too many characters all at once, or not using enough locations, etc.

I have done this with other books as well, in an attempt to get an overall idea how mysteries are structured. So far I've found this exercise to be very useful–possibly the most useful I've encountered so far in the re-write process.

Holly West

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