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Author Topic: Advice on Novel Structure
babygears81
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Hello everyone,
I'm currently in the midst of an aneurysm inducing dilemma that I would like your advice on. I'm revising the first draft of my novel, Daughter of the Sun. The end is such that, once revealed, will change the entire context of the story. When the reader finishes the book, they'll reflect back on the beginning and realize they weren't seeing what they thought they were seeing.

My challenge in revision, is to go back to the beginning and make sure the ending seems inevitable, without taking away any of the surprise and without annoying the reader. Here's a quick run down: (Don't be put off by my use of the word avatar. It's a 'for lack of a better word' situation. I never use it in my novel.)

Premise: What if, as a result of the guilt she felt about her mother’s suicide, a young Cherokee woman (Virginia) with special powers, unconsciously cast the best parts of herself out and into the body of her thirteen year old avatar (leaving her 18 yr. old self with only the worst parts as a form of self punishment?) What if that avatar, She-Brings-Happiness, was taken to a land where the myths and legends of her people live in order to make her strong in the ways of her people (over coming her other half's weaknesses--self doubt and guilt) so she could return home and achieve balance with her other half, making a stronger whole?

The 13 year old protagonist, who goes by Happiness throughout most of the novel, isn't aware of her mother's suicide, or that she isn't whole until the end, when she finally makes it home and see's her other half standing in her kitchen. Then her grandma explains everything to her.

I've decided to refer to the split as "The Event" (maybe I'll think of something better later, but it'll do for now)and to structure the novel like this:

BEFORE THE EVENT(With an actual title page that says that):
Chp. 1-Carolina (MC's mother) and Georgia (MC's grandma)argue. Mom is new world, an alcoholic, and resentes her Indian heritage and grandma is old school and proud. This chapter lays the foundation for the mythology, but more importantly illustrates how out of balance these women's relationships are to one another. Mom obviously hasn't died yet. Virginia isn't in this part, but they talk about her so the reader gets the sense Mom and grandma are not the leads.

Chp. 2-Enter Virginia as a 13 year old. (The real Virginia as this is B.T.E.) Reader see's how tension between mom and grandma affects her and throws her off balance, emotionally, as well. Virginia goes outside to play and grandma tries to tell mom about Virginia's power. That she can travel through her dreams, but does so unconsciously. She doesn't know what she's doing and grandma fears one day she may get lost and never come back. She has a friend who can help Virginia. He might have to take her away for a while, but he'll learn about her power and teach her how to use it. Mom gets mad at her bringing up "magical Indian bull****" and doesn't believe her.

AFTER THE EVENT (With an actual title page that says that): Mother has been dead for a few weeks now and the real Virginia is now about 18, but we won't see her until the end.
Chp. 3 Virginia wakes up and can't sleep (this is the 13 yr. old avatar now, mom is dead already, though avatar doesn't know it yet. Avatar has just been created with all the happy memories of the first 13 years of her life and nothing afterwards. She is unaware as is her other half who is sleeping soundly and never seen by avatar.)Virginia walks to mother's bedroom and finds it empty. This is not uncommon as mom often goes on drinking binges. Goes downstairs and finds grandma, who looks like she's seen a ghost, and is also much older looking. She senses something is wrong, and that it has to do with her mother, but doesn't press her grandma for answers because she's afraid of what grandma will tell her. Falls asleep on the couch waiting for mom.

Chp.4-Wakes up and hears grandma talking to someone, telling them they have to help her. She always knew something like this would happen some day. She wanted to do something about it sooner, but Virginia's mother would never let her. Virginia interrupts conversation, but see's no one but her grandma there. Grandma says go play. She abides because she senses the calamity of whatever secret is hanging in the air. Its not like her grandma (the stable one) to behave so strangely, so she decides she can wait until grandma is ready to tell her.

From there she's kidnapped by a man, taken to another world, but he dies. She has to learn about her powers and why he brought her here the hard way. She overcomes a series of obstacles that teach her to believe in herself and let go of guilt. Her dreams continue to haunt her. She see's a woman (her other self) in them, feels they are connected, but doesn't know why. Is scared of the woman because she is so vile. She starts going by her Cherokee name She-Brings-Happiness or Happiness for short in this part because the man who kidnapped her and the people who help her speak Cherokee and are beings from Cherokee mythology.

THE EVENT (Again, with a title page that actually says that): She finally makes it home only to discover that her home isn't a place, but a person. Grandma explains everything--The Event from her perspective. Happiness makes the connections to early chapters and grandma tells her the "real" purpose of her journey and that she wants her to merge with her other half. But Happiness see's herself as a whole person. She's done fine without Virginia and she has seen Virginia's soul and her life in her dreams. She is repulsed by her and scared and vows never to merge with her. Grandma says she doesn't have to decide tonight. End of story.

Book two will explore her options more in depth leading to her making her final decision and then showing the consequences of that decision. (There will be three books)

My concern is this:
Can I structure my book this way without irritating or confusing the reader by jumping from before the event to after it without revealing what IT is?

If you think its not a good idea, do you have any other suggestions that won't change the ending of my story?

I'm about ready to throw this 500 page manuscript against the wall and the only reason I haven't is that I would have to put it all back together again.

Any thoughts would be much appreciated. I apologize for the length of this post.

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extrinsic
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A concern I have from what's given is this is a personal journey tale with no inevitable outcome ends in sight from the beginning. Personal journeys parallel journey quests--the story shape, so to speak--for tangible objects and outcomes. Personal journeys are largely journeys of the mind and personal maturation tales.

The shape of journeys, whether personal or material, begin from a hometown favorite's isolation and departure from the comforts of a home sanctuary. I see this beginning as the Event you're striving to withhold until the ending.

I think part of the difficulties you're having is from Virginia having no clear-cut, tangible goal or want or problem wanting satisfaction from the get-go.

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Grumpy old guy
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I am always wary of beginning a story with a character other than the protagonist or antagonist. Having said that, I have started one that way simply because I saw no other way to write the story. So, I'd suggest that's a first thing to consider, can you write the opening in Virginia's POV?

I also have a concern with the ending. IMHO, a book, whether it's a part of a trilogy or not, should not leave the reader dangling. For each book you should be able to write, 'The End', and leave the reader satisfied with the conclusion.

I don't see an issue with the transitions within the story, however readers may feel they've been duped if you've deliberately set them up to believe one thing but at the end it's another thing entirely. I suppose my question here is, why do you want to do it this way?

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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I have to disagree with extrinsic, I see Virgina as having a personal quest of self-discovery. And, in a sense, her 'other vile self' is the antagonist. Obstacles are placed in her path that she has to overcome, and as a result, she grows and matures.

Phil.

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babygears81
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Extrinsic-I do spend time showing Virginia in her sanctuary. Her home life is tumultuous, but she still loves her mom and grandma and is happy with them, though their lives aren't perfect. Then, she is kidnapped and taken to another world. Her desire/need/want throughout the novel is to get back home. It's just that home isn't what she thinks it is.

Do you think this structure will work?

Grumpy old guy-I hear ya on the ending, but I'm not too concerned about that. All the loose ends are resolved by the time the book ends. If it makes you feel better you can think as the two selves being resolved too if you want because in this book, Happiness chooses not to merge and that IS, technically, a resolution. The reader is left with the sense that grandma will try to change her mind. And if I'm breaking that rule, I don't mind. It's been done before.

Why am I telling the story this way? Because this is how it came. When I started, I only knew the end. I know that's an unsatifsying answer, but its the only one I have.

I don't think the reader will feel duped because the protagonist is in the dark too. It's not like she knows and I just didn't show the reader.

Also, thanks for your concern on the POV thing. I had the same one. I'm still thinking about it, but this is how it is now. I'm still revising, but I can't proceed until I figure out the structure.

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babygears81
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Yes, yes, grumpy old guy. She does have an internal journey of self discovery while her external journey is to return home. Thank you for clarifying that. I didn't make that very clear in my synopsis.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I have to disagree with extrinsic, I see Virgina as having a personal quest of self-discovery. And, in a sense, her 'other vile self' is the antagonist. Obstacles are placed in her path that she has to overcome, and as a result, she grows and matures.

Phil.

A personal quest of self-discovery and personal journey are zebras of black and white stripes and zebras of white and black stripes.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by babygears81:
Extrinsic-I do spend time showing Virginia in her sanctuary. Her home life is tumultuous, but she still loves her mom and grandma and is happy with them, though their lives aren't perfect. Then, she is kidnapped and taken to another world. Her desire/need/want throughout the novel is to get back home. It's just that home isn't what she thinks it is.

Do you think this structure will work?

In and of itself, the shape of routine interrupted can work for short stories quite handily. For a novel or longer, routine interrupted shapes are challenging, more so for a first novel. Once the routine is interrupted and accommodated to, a strengthening dramatic complication is needed to carry a story's plot further.

Looking at the routine interrupted shape from another approach, the dramatic complication creates a victim plot. Antagonism's opposing forces do to a protagonist instead of the protagonist taking steps to satisfy the complication from the get-go. A short story can address the complication proactively and finalize the outcome in short order. A novel or longer needs a higher magnitude or escalating complication to hold up throughout.

Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. principle speaks to the emphasis M for millieu plays in such a shape. A hometown favorite leaves sanctuary: driven out, taken away, striking out on her or his own, unintentionally falling down a rabbit hole, finding a gateway to another world, and so on. Satisfying returning to sanctuary, the original one, though "you can't go home again" the same person, or to a new normal in the new place or another place, means proactively overcoming the forces that keep the protagonist away and insecure. That's the middle. The end, getting back home safely to enjoy the quest's rewards and tell about the adventure is a conventional want and outcome of a journey quest.

Forces opposing returning home are bridging complications that arise in sequence to build upon an opening complication. If they're happenstance unrelated forces, unity suffers. If they're thematically related and audience accessible forces, unity rings like a bell. Regardless, as with an ending, a protagonist's doing ought best for unity's sake cause the complications from a beginning and as they arise.

A tangible quest fits the bill for a routine interrupted shape. That way readers have a tangible want to share with and root for a protagonist while the protagonist experiences personal growth.

For want of love, beauty was kidnapped. For want of beauty, the world turned dark. For want of light, the world burned. Beauty returned home a ruined crone rising from ashes to restore light to the world.

[ February 15, 2013, 09:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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babygears81
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Oh extrinsic, where were you when I wrote my first, first draft? That is exactly what happened. Everything always happened to my MC. She was passive. After writing 400 pages, I had to scrap the whole thing and start over. In fact, it was OSC's book on writing Sci-fi and Fantasy that helped me identify what kind of story I was telling and organize it from there. Hence my second, first draft.

I actually emailed you about my concept a long time ago, when I first joined the group. I don't know if you remember. I didn't know enough about writing at the time to truly understand even half of what you said, but I did later. [Smile]

There is still an amount of passiveness in my MC, but to a much lesser degree in this draft. I took one of Odyssey's on-line writing classes on novel revision and they helped me figure it out. It'll be a fairly easy fix. There are escalating complications and they do all tie into the theme. That is actually one of my strengths in this draft.

Anyway, thanks to you both for weighing in. Since neither of you complained too much about the structure (provided I have accounted for these other things, and I have) I'm gonna run with it for now and then reassess later.

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extrinsic
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I remember your e-mail. I see lots of progress since then too. I was learning while you were, too. Still am. Always will. The poet's journey only ends at the bitter end. Doubts surface strongest before epiphanies. Epiphanies are most meaningful and fulfilling when we reach them on our own. Yet we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and anchor the feet of those who come after us while we strive.

[ February 22, 2013, 12:02 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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You're welcome, although I would happily let you give most of the credit to extrinsic. My input was a little less profound.

Phil.

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Corky
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The structure looks okay to me, babygears81, except that I have to wonder what Virginia (the antagonist, right?) thinks about Happiness showing up again.

Consider another story about a character having to merge with his shadow (which is what Virginia is to Happiness, when you get right down to it): THE WIZARD OF EARTHSEA. Ged's Shadow is his darker half and Ged can only defeat his darker half by accepting and assimilating it--but the darker half does not want to be assimilated and would rather destroy Ged than see that happen. So Ged has a real struggle ahead because he realizes he can't be whole without his Shadow.

Happiness may take three books to get to that point, but what is Virginia's story arc? Are you going to show how she deals with this part of herself that she rejected--that she hates because she doesn't think she deserves Happiness and it is extremely painful for her to be reminded of all that she has rejected in herself?

Another example might be to look at Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as the good and bad halves of each other (though that isn't the way I look at them, by the way). In the end, the "merger" between them allows Hyde to destroy Jekyll because that is Hyde's nature, and Jekyll isn't strong enough to resist Hyde's dark half or to survive a merger with him.

I think that to treat your characters fairly, you will need to explore Virginia's side of all of this, and figure out how Happiness can win her over without destroying them both.

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babygears81
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Thanks for the input Corky. I haven't read the book you mentioned above. I am not well read in the fantasy/sci-fi/horror genres. Something I am working to ammend, since I discovered that is what I write. Anyway, my second book will address this issue, only it isn't the bad side that resists the merge, its the good one. But both Happiness and Virginia have an arc in book 2.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Oh, babygears81, you really should read THE WIZARD OF EARTHSEA (by Ursula K. LeGuin). It's a wonderful book and a true classic. (It's YA fantasy.)
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babygears81
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Consider it added to my list then. Two recommends will do that. [Smile]
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rcmann
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Make it 3. A superlative book. LeGuin is extraordinary.
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InarticulateBabbler
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I'll second what Kathleen said. I think you are truly missing out if you haven't read "A Wizard of Earthsea". Also, I would add Octavia Butler's "Wild Seed," since I see some parallels, and both are excellent reads.

As to your original "structure" question:
quote:
Can I structure my book this way without irritating or confusing the reader by jumping from before the event to after it without revealing what IT is?
(1) What is the purpose for doing this? There are some reasons, but very few, I can think of for this. Fewer are necessary.

(2)Is it a plot trick?

Ultimately, you can do anything you want, it is yours. But, if you hide something that should've been known, only to be clever, many readers will feel cheated and you will turn them off.

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babygears81
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InarticulateBabbler- to answer your first question, the purpose of doing this is that I need to show the reader what Virginia's life was like before her mother died. I also need to show what these three women's relationships are like in order for the ending to have the greatest emotional impact. The problem is, when my story starts, her mother is already dead. The story starts when the avatar has been created, so I had to find some way to indicate to the reader that hey, what you're seeing right now happened before.

To answer your second question, is it a trick? No. The story came to me this way. I saw, from the very beginning, a young girl living her everyday life, then something crazy happened and she had to go on a journey. (This is the part I couldn't see clearly and needed to develop) At the end of her journey she meets an older version of herself, who isn't fairing well, and is faced with a choice: sacrafice herself for her other half or don't. Each decision has its own consequences, of course. But I always intended to tell the story this way. It wasn't like I got to the end and thought, wouldn't this be cool?

Who knows, maybe it won't work, but I feel like I have to stay true to my vision, at least until I'm positive that it won't. If I get feedback from readers saying hey, this really sucked, then I'll consider a rewrite, but until then, I've got to find the best way to tell THIS story, ya know?

My MC doesn't know she is an avatar, and that's why I think I can get away with it. Its not like she knows and I'm just keeping it a secret.

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InarticulateBabbler
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Don't get me wrong, I'm not TELLING you to do anything. The questions weren't so much for me as you. I was trying to give you an idea of what I, as a reader, would feel was cheating. My thought was that if you asked about the structure you already HAD doubts--else why would you ask?

I was trying to offer you support. [Big Grin] What I meant is: I think you can do a before and after her mother dies, so long as you don't try to hide the death to make it a surprise later. If you're not keeping the death secret to surprise the reader later, I think it'll be fine--it might even help synch the aspects of the story.

There are two embodiments of the separate halves of her? If this is so, then do both halves know about the death? I think this is the key, and the major PoV concern. I could think of a dozen questions along the "separate embodiments" lines, but I trust you have done this for yourself.

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babygears81
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Thanks Inarticulate Babbler. I didn't interpret your comments as you trying to tell me what to do. I hope I didn't come across as defensive. I was just answering your questions to give you as clear a picture as possible thinking that you were posing those questions to get clarification for yourself, and not, as you clarified above, to help clarify things for me. [Smile]

You did offer a great suggestion. As of now, the avatar knows her mom is missing, but does not yet know she is dead. The reader suspects as much though. But I think making that a certainty in the beginning is a great idea. It will help alot with Happiness's character arc throughout the story if she knows too. One of the things she's supposed to conquer is her propensity for torturing herself with guilt. If I can make that specifically about the guilt she feels about her mother's death, all the better since that is what is tearing her other half apart, literally.

I'll have to think about this and see what the implications would be on the story as a whole, but awesome suggestion. Thanks!

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InarticulateBabbler
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I'm glad I could be of some meager help.

Sometimes, caps can infer different meaning than I intended--I was just too tired to use italics--it wasn't meant to be as stressed as it looks. Sorry about that.

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