Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The String

Last year about this time I wrote a post over on my Innocent Flower blog that seemed to resonate with a handful of people. Since Davin is gone this week, and tomorrow is my regular posting day, I'm putting up my structure post in case you didn't get a chance to read it before. It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately as I revise my current work

"It's not the pearls but the string that makes the necklace." ~unknown

Alex Moore did a post over at Adventures In Writing at the beginning of June, titled Got Armature? That's where I stole the quote above. Alex's post talks about armature, which in sculpture, is a framework providing a core for modeling materials such as wax, clay, and plaster. It is such a fascinating concept, the premise being, in Alex's words:

An armature provides structure and it is invisible to the naked eye. It is an essential piece of the overall product, but the viewer should never see so much as a wire poking through.

As a writer, a novelist, why do you care? Well, Brian McDonald, screenwriter extraordinaire, explained it all like this: Your masterpiece must have a point that you're trying to prove. Every decision you make is based on that point. So, the armature is the message that your story proves. [Note: the message must go somewhere. You can't have a message like "love" -- but you can have one that states "love sucks."

So, in essence, I like to think of all this in layers, once again. A pearl necklace is the simplest structure I can use as an example. The meat of your story can't float in a beautiful line without structure. Those pearls need a string, and according to the premise above, that string - the message of your book - must be invisible. AND it must support your entire book, and tie together at the end. Otherwise - no necklace. Examples work the best for me. Let's see how good I am at this!

Wizard Of Oz - family is your home

Pride and Prejudice - love transcends selfishness

Lord of the Rings - limitless power always corrupts

Those are my best guesses. If you've got anything different, let me know. I hope that gives you a small idea of where I'm going with this. It makes me think of theme. I know that's a scary word for a lot of you. In most cases, nobody should pre-plan their theme, in my opinion. It should just happen. This is why I think that the string must be invisible. If it's "showing" it's probably because the writer was trying too hard to push something on the reader, or too excited to show their clever theme, or some other reason. But when you set to work on those second draft revisions (where I believe the real writing happens), you should be aware of this string/armature/theme, and you should strengthen it, not necessarily make it visible. Alex also states:

. . . every scene must prove this point- anything else just dilutes the message. Sub-themes may emerge, but they will always complement your point. Don't muddy the work.

I might have hit on sub-themes up there in my examples. Perhaps I'm not seeing the bigger structure, but it's a start. Sometimes it's hard to see the structure that's invisible all the way through!

I think knowing what the structure is in our work is absolutely essential. It provides focus, continuity, and builds to a dynamic, satisfactory end. Without it, your story might be a pretty pile of pearls, and quite possibly a mess. I know I've felt this way about my work, but when I've figured out what the invisible structure should be in the novel, I can't tell you how much of a difference it makes. Everything has direction, support, a goal! And it's all sliding onto the string, one pearl at a time.


  1. Wow interesting post. I never thought about my work that way. I'll have to try this. BTW - Love the new look of the blog!

  2. Jennifer: Yeah, it's an interesting thought, huh? I blame Alex for the strange idea. Glad you like the new look!

  3. Exactly! If the overall concept is not there underpinning all the scenes and dialogue, what could we possibly remember?

  4. Interesting post Michelle. I love the imagery of the string holding the pearls together, and it's one that will stick in my mind when I start my new story (after my revisions are finished!)


  5. Great post. I love the idea of the armature so much better than theme. I guess I need to go back and find out what my structure lacks.

  6. Agreed, but that string better have some nice shiny pearls, too... or diamonds... or pieces of Mithril... or midichlorians (that would be cool to bottle those suckas right up), which might not actually need a string...

    but, yeah, it's nice if you can get a theme in there without hammering the reader over the head.

  7. Yup. Theme and structure are pretty well intertwined.

  8. Lakeviewer: I think it's easy to forget this concept and let plot take completely over. I know I've done it many times!

    Judy: I like the imagery, too. I hope it's helpful to you! It has helped me on all my projects so far.

    Anne: Theme just sounds scary, but when I think of it in these terms it's not so bad. I don't think you have to worry too much about your projects and this.

    Bane: Oh, yes, it had better have some pretty dang nice pearls, I agree!

    Loren: Yep. :)

  9. I like the point about the theme/string being invisible.

    Too heavy handed with theme and its like one of those thick, in your face necklaces.

  10. Susan: Yes, and I've read books like that. It's never easy to get through those!

  11. I don't know what the theme is to my novel, but I know it's there in every scene. I think it has something to do with people caring for each other.
    I have a lot of really disconnected characters and they keep reaching out to each other and getting burned.
    But there's a whole bunch of other crap going on as who knows.


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