10 June 2011

Patterned story structure meets the coffee house book

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Upon the recommendation of Nathan Bransford, I read this post by Jennifer Crusie at Argh Ink about linear vs. patterned story structure, comparing a patterned structure to a quilt that's been pieced together.

This post comes to me at a perfect time in the creation of the coffee house book since a lot of the background "stuff" I'm doing right now deals with structure and how everything fits together with this book, as well as with the other books I have planned in this collection.

In fact, I was just explaining to Hubby last night that I can't really start writing the coffee house book until I have a rough idea of the story lines in the other books in the collection so I know what character is where, who is important when, and what story needs to be told how.

Crusie says:
So in a patterned novel or film (damn hard to pull off), you need to construct pieces that are complete in and of themselves, scene sequences that form complete stories, and then juxtapose them with other pieces to make a pattern so that at the end, the pattern is the meaning of the story. Think of the scene sequences as quilt blocks, beautiful on their own, and the story as the finished quilt in which the blocks disappear when it's finished to form a patterned whole. The blocks are beautiful, but it's the quilt as a whole that's the finished design.
That is what I want to accomplish with the coffee house book, as well as with the whole of the collection. Yes, each book in the collection has its story, and each character in each book has his or her story, but it's how those stories fit together that's the important thing.

The books I'm working on are about relationships and perceptions. They're about how people work and live together in a community, how different community members interact with each other, and what, overall, makes up a community.

I could tell the community's story in a linear structure. I could go through the characters and explain the town and talk about how people interact with each other. But it would be a boring book, that's for sure! At that point, the collection (or the novel, since that's what it would be) would focus on some story arc that links the community rather than what really links a community: the people and their relationships with each other.

As Crusie says, some stories call for a linear structure. (When I first started writing the coffee house book, I thought it needed to be a linear structure.) Those stories don't hold up in a patterned structure. And some stories call for a patterned structure. And those stories don't hold up in a linear structure.

A patterned structure is not easy. You have to know the story really well, be conscious about how the quilt is pieced together (it can't be random), and know how it all fits together. It takes a lot of background work, takes patience during writing, and takes careful editing. But in the end, it's worth it.

After all, quilts sure look beautiful when they're finished, don't they?

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