Finding Narrative Structure

An integral part in creating a story is figuring out the overall structure for the narrative, and how that narrative will fit within the confines of a series and/or saga (unless the story about which you are writing is intended to be a stand-alone novel – in that case, it’s the narrative structure of that single novel is of paramount concern). As stated (briefly) in previous entries, I’ve committed myself to writing an Epic Saga (and yes, the capital letters is warranted, as the scope of the MASC Chronicles, the chosen name for intended Epic Saga, extends across a vast amount of time, touches upon multiple genres, and features a very large cast of characters) and pinpointing the exact narrative structure and sequence of events has been a challenging endeavor. one that I relish in figuring out – at some point there will be index cards stuck on a cork board, with notes and musings written in a vast array of colors, which will (hopefully) provide a visual layout of the intricate ties the characters and plot points that will occur within each series, and how everything will make sense within the entire saga. I probably should invest in a whiteboard to map out the sequence of events with the same zeal as a football coach who charts out game plans (or whatever the correct terminology is – I’m not much of a sports fan).


While I still struggle with figuring out the sequence of events throughout the series/saga, I have (tentatively) figured out how each novel is to be structured (technically speaking of course – the actual sequence of events within the story is still under construction, as it were), and it alludes to my other great passion in life: theatre. I am quite an avid theatergoer, and overall theatre nerd/geek/dork – I have a great love for musicals and plays, amassing a good amount of (quasi-useless) knowledge about various shows, composers, playwrights and actors associated with any given production. I count among my acquaintances a number of theater actors (many of whom have acted on Broadway and off), and also count among my good friends composers and playwrights (some of whom have had their work performed off-off Broadway). If I could get over my quasi-inability to write plausible, non-melodramatic dialogue, I could be a playwright myself (of course, I do hope to adapt my own novels to the stage and/of screen one day).

But I digress (slightly).

A musical or a play is usually structured with two acts, and an intermission in between –  there are some plays/musicals that only have one-act, and then there are others that have multiple acts/intermissions.  More times than not, the action in a play/musical introduces a problem, task or other undertaking for which the characters need to resolve,overcome, or accomplish – obstacles are strewn along the way, and there is a build up to a dramatic high point by the end of the first act, sometimes a startling revelation, or cataclysmic event or, in the case of some musicals, a rousing, self-affirming anthem. Regardless of which device is used, it’s something that almost requires the need for an intermission, so that the audience can process what has transpired on stage (and a time to stretch one’s legs, make a restroom run or to buy merchandise and/or drinks). The second act picks up the action left off from the first act and progresses to the next dramatic high point wherein loose ends are tied, problems are resolved, and/or a task has been achieved (or not, depending on how the play/musical is structured). The aforementioned is only a vastly general outline of what plays/musicals are (and one I’ve just thought up from my experiences in seeing plays and musicals).

OK. the point of all that was to quasi-illustrate how I plan to structure my novels – that there will be essentially three parts: two acts and an intermission (though in the case of my novel(s), this will technically be more an interlude than an intermission). Each chapter will be a rough equivalent to a scene and will build up to a high point, wherein the interlude will impart other relevant information independent (maybe) to the narrative flow. Per my (intended) narrative structure, each “act” will be imparted in 1st person perspective (one I have only recently explored, as I have always tended to write in 3rd person omnipresent, which will the perspective used in the interlude/intermission). The actual details on how each scene/chapter will unfold is among the next set of tasks I will undertake.

What I (somewhat) know is that each novel will be a (quasi) self-contained story, and will be one aspect of a larger narrative – akin to a massive play cycle such as The Coast of Utopia trilogy, or perhaps as epic as Wagner’s Ring Cycle [at the rate I’m plotting out the Epic Saga, the latter might be a better comparison]. Of course, structuring my novels in this fashion is a bit forward thinking  on my part in anticipation of the possibility of adapting these stories into plays (maybe a musical), television series or film series. (Wishful thinking, perhaps, but one needs dreams).

Figuring out the structure of a novel (or several) is essential to the writing process, the rest is in the details (and figuring out who goes where and when and how and why is an interesting challenge). Time travel may be involved somehow and…



4 thoughts on “Finding Narrative Structure

  1. Mind successfully blown (as usual).

    Reading this, I think I have a MUCH better understanding of how (or maybe why?) your Epic Saga is so complicated. I’ll be completely honest and admit that I haven’t seen anything done where plays/musicals are concerned (unless you count The Nutcracker when I was about 10 or so, which I do not).
    I don’t really understand that much about them – how they’re paced, or how things come to a head and whatnot. This was definitely awesome to read, both in understanding how complicated they are (at least to me) and how it impacts the way you look at your own writing.

    But yeah, mind blown.

    And I think we all have some dream about getting to see our novels acted out by other people. I don’t know if it’s the ‘cool’ factor, or just how amazing it would be to witness it ‘come to life’. I don’t know.

    Of course, heard Alex Kingston in my head there at the end. XD

  2. My interest in and subsequent love of writing and in theatre happened almost concurrently, and at a very impressionable age – it was inevitable that they should intersect at some point in my life, to the point where my other blog is dedicated to the close encounters of the theatrical kind [which is also the title of that blog].

    The way I envision my Epic Saga is quasi-similar to those Russian nesting dolls where there is a succession of smaller figures within that follow a kind of sequence of events (or,an onion, where upon the interlocking layers make up the whole) – there are a vast amount of moving parts and intricate parts that when looked upon as a whole will (hopefully) make sense.

    I do have that far-flung dream that one day this Epic Saga will be either staged or filmed (or both) sometime down the line, which gives me a sense of structure when the adaptation presents itself. such as when and how to end chapters, and the overall pacing of the narrative. I also hope that I will be involved in the adaptation process (and hopefully have a say in the casting, as I do have a vision in my head of what these characters look like. Also, I have very little faith in the Hollywood system, which seems to be obsessed with youth and beauty rather than experience and talent).

    But I digress.

    Yes, Alex Kingston’s voice does pop into my head every now and then (as does Matt Smith’s) – it sometimes helps with my dialogue writing if I can hear the conversations in my head.

    • I loved the nesting doll explanation. It was a very neat way of putting it (and definitely made sense to my simpleminded self, haha).

      You know . . . when I’m writing a novel, I see the whole thing in my head in a very movie-like way. It’s also like that when I’m reading, though much less clear. I know some people who read don’t see anything at all. I digressed with the last bit there. Anyway, despite seeing it that way, I never sort of . . . TRANSLATED it (I guess would be a way to put it) to how it being filmed or acted out would actually change the events or how it was laid out. Hm.

      I’ll definitely agree with the Hollywood system. And you see that a lot with book-to-movie adaptations, particularly in the Young Adult genre (which I’m a big fan of), with them choosing actors who physically look more like a character instead of an actor who could actually BE the character. There are some exceptions to that rule.

      It would sound ‘crazy’ to say that ‘hearing voices in your head’ would be a good thing, but for writers . . . it kind of is.

      Ah, Matt Smith.
      I won’t get started.

      • Yeah, the nesting doll analogy is probably the most apt, as it does seem that I find more and more stories to tell within the grander scheme of things.

        I would imagine novel writing an script writing are similar in structure in its pacing, when/where to end a chapter/scene and the methods employed to direct the audience’s attention (and when to slip in those red herrings or vial clues)

        Yeah, outward appearance seems to be the focus rather than internal method, though from a business standpoint, I get the fact that there is that need for ‘eye candy’ and ‘star power’ to draw in audiences, but I wish it were not at the expense of relating a story as intended.

        Well “The Day of the Doctor” is a little over a month away, so it won’t be long now…

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