Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2013, The Year of Structure

(Plotting the next novel using The Hero's Journey and the 3 act model.
Note the missing scenes so far. I'll fill them in later.)

I'm a big fan of structure and format (as opposed to formulaic, more of that later). We've been telling stories for centuries. These formats have stood the test of time.

I write first to please myself, but nothing pleases me more than knowing what I'm doing and where I'm going. I find The Hero's Journey structure to be really useful in laying the foundations of where a story is going.

BUT - my stories don't always 'conform' to this structure, now there's a 'new' archetype structure that author Kim Hudson has eloquently set out. It's called The Virgin's Promise, (link: and it fits the 'Coming of Age' archetype perfectly.

I'm going to be studying this (and probably nodding my head a great deal) as I recognise this structure in novels I've written and the ones I'm plotting out now.

Subconsciously, many writers use structure all the time. A beginning, a middle, an end. A problem that needs solving. Something in the way (whether it's 'the baddie' or it's a character fault that a heroine hasn't acknowledged and needs to overcome etc). A reward at the end. Or, in the case of a 'downer ending', the character staring into the abyss.

What doesn't always work for me is trying to shoehorn scenes into a structural format.
I look at the structure of The Hero's Journey and wondering where something fits in. Does a scene where characters enter a song contest qualify as "allies and enemies" or is it "begin passing trials?"
Where I have huge gaps (such as "time out, mask is revealed") what do I put there? Do I write a scene with this purposefully in mind?

This is where stories can get formulaic. A writer (i.e., ME) knows something has to go 'in this place marker' and so I force something in there. It doesn't feel organic or intuitive, it feels like the characters are serving the plot instead of driving it.

I'll be blogging about formula, structure and formats as the personal epiphanies keep coming. Luckily for us Aussies, Kim Hudson is bringing her Virgin's Promise to Australia for our RWA conference in Fremantle in August. I can't wait.

Over to you. Do you follow structure or do you write intuitively? Is structure too demanding or overwhelming, or is it your roadmap to stop you getting lost? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

~Ebony McKenna author of the Ondine series. The Ondine books are a sparkling combination of romance and magic – perfect for teen girls. Written with genuine humour and unique eccentricity, the series is an obvious choice for fans of The Princess Bride and Ella Enchanted.


  1. I'm all about structure! I didn't used to be but I learned the hard way through a workshop from a great mentor that it's easier to write a clean draft than it is to clean it up.

  2. It's funny, as a pantser originally, I tended to follow structure intuitively. Nowadays I do plot a little more, but I think reading so much kind of puts it in your subconscious for you to follow. Or maybe I'm crazy. :D

  3. I hardly ever follow any type of structure. Totally a pantser ;)

  4. The picture isn't showing up, so I have a sad face. :-(

    Anyway, I think whether you're a pantser or a plotter, the structure of story is there in our DNA, simply because we subconsciously absorb it from reading so many novels.

  5. Structure is the foundation. What you build on top is the artists dream.

  6. Gosh, Karlene stated it perfectly! YES!! That is me.

  7. Excellent post, Ebony. I've been reading (and absorbing) the lessons of the great Joseph Campbell - specifically: The Hero's Journey and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I'm a plotter all the way and find his insights incredibly useful, however, I too strive to find balance between formula and format. I use a blend of Hero's Journey and screenwriter, Blake Snyder's Save the Cat beatsheet: - highly recommended for fiction as well as screenwriting.

    I used to be a pantser. I used to rewrite and get blocked and walk away from projects. I find having a solid structure before I start - helps me get to the finish line faster and with far less "this story is doomed" moments.

    Thanks for sharing Kim Hudson's plot structure offering, going to check it out now....

  8. Hi everyone, I am an Illustrator. Nice to know all of you authors. :) Cheers!