Structure and Research
Structure and Research
Every novel has a structure. They of course have a beginning, middle and end, but they do not necessarily have to be in that order. Quentin Tarrantino is notorious for throwing the end at the beginning and mixing everything else up in between for his films. Stephen King’s IT is another example – jumping back and forth between scenes where the main characters are kids and then as adults.
It is important for you as the writer to plan out the structure of your story so that you get the main elements of the plot in the order that you want them in. It is also important in maintaining the continuity and the flow of the story.
One way of doing this is to make notes of each major scene on index cards – this is known as storyboarding. Films and commercials use the same technique. You can jot down the basic elements of each scene – who is in the scene, where it is set, what happens etc. Then you can arrange the cards in the order that you would like these scenes to appear in the story. If you want a scene that happened before a future scene to appear after it, you know then that it needs to be told in flashback. This again helps with the planning and continuity of the story.
You now have the bones of the story. What you need to do next is put a little meat on the bones – fill in the gaps. We need the interlocking scenes, background scenes, sub-plots, etc. That means more cards. Maybe some of the new ideas are better than the original ones, so some of the old cards might get binned. New characters emerge to fulfil functions in the story. Your background research might suggest still more scenes which might go into this or that part of the novel; still more cards go into your growing deck. Now you will have quite a few cards, so now is the time to start grouping them into chapters as well.
So you’ve got your thick wad of cards. Now what you do is you take your first card which should be the opening scene of the book and you start properly writing the scene. You then work through each card in the order you want them.
On the subject of research, I can’t stress enough just how important it is to get every fact correct down to the smallest details. My second book, Sinema, is set in Northumberland. I’m from Newcastle, but I know Northumberland pretty well too. I still had to do an enormous amount of research on the area down to what types of trees, plants, birds, communities, history etc. A character is planning a murder with an untraceable poison that acts immediately. I had to research the correct poison to make sure it did do exactly what I wanted it to do in the story.
My third book, The Killing Moon opens with a Chinese invasion of Russia to seize the Siberian oil reserves. Below is just a few of the subjects that I had to research for that one element of the story.
- Chinese military units, equipment, ranks, vehicles, structure
- Russian military units, equipment, ranks, vehicles, structure
- Siberian oil fields
- Geography of the area
- Transportation routes, bridges and strategic areas
- Military tactics
- Small arms
- Weather conditions