Writing structure: the suspension bridge

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Today, I’m mostly working on structuring the novella I’ve been writing for the past couple of months. Having just completed a second draft, where I was focused on narrative voice, really getting the writing right – finding the voice I want and making sure that it’s consistent, which is an issue as I sometimes struggle with stamina, I want to make the reader’s experience structurally just as good.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

James Scott Bell introduced me to the idea of the three act structure in his book Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth: Strategies and Techniques for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level . There’s a summary of this particular idea here. He’s not the only one by any means to have discussed such an idea, but he used the metaphor of a bridge, which I found really visual and easy to get hold of. From memory, his suggestion is that writing is like a bridge with supports at pivotal moments. Those supports are what propels the reader forward – in English Literature terminology, they’re the inciting incidents or the cliffhanger. Rachel Aaron calls them the ‘tree on fire’ moments (I’m paraphrasing; she suggests that the first section of your book is when you find your characters and put them in a tree – then you set the tree on fire and see what happens!).

Bridge

In terms of my story, I kind of had this in mind when I was writing but having looked at the plot/word count for each section etc., I’m surprised that the acts are pretty equal, which is fairly stunning! It feels like a well-paced story, and maybe this is part of the reason, although it wasn’t part of the original design – I didn’t write with a specific length in mind, indeed the second draft was a good 50% longer than the first.

So my task today, having divided it into sections and chapters, is to strengthen those supports, to ratchet up the tension at the end of each chapter and section and provide the reader with that ‘must turn the page’ moment. You know the one: when the choice is finish the chapter and go do something else, or finish the chapter and ‘oh, just one more…’ Because when I’ve achieved that reader experience, that’ll be very satisfying.

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