Second Draft

How We Do It Pt 2: Structure

Posted in Collaboration by Michael Skeet on Friday, March 12, 2010

I envy authors who have the luxury of just writing whatever their muses dictate. When you’re working on a collaborative project you don’t have the option. Our work is (possibly) not as rigorously structured as would appeal to certain anal-retentive engineer types we know, but it has to be much more deliberately thought-out than would be the case for a project worked on by a single writer.

When Jill and I agreed that we would work on Demon Gate together, we were able to jump past some of the basic questions any writer faces when starting a new project: we knew who many of the characters would be, and we knew the milieu in which the story would be set (in both cases because Demon Gate was to be a follow-on of our novella “Beneath the Skin”).

At the same time, though, we didn’t have the luxury of allowing the form and structure of the story to emerge over the course of the first draft. Because of the way we work (more on this later), we had to lock down at least some idea of the novel’s structure before we could move on to the next phase of work.

We started with the idea that we would be continuing the moral education of our protagonist, Satoshi. The ending of “Beneath the Skin” was fairly ambiguous (deliberately so, I hasten to add), and we wanted to make it clear that Satoshi still had some growing up to do. With this in mind we agreed on a simple, traditional three-act structure:

  • Act I would have its own three-part structure, in which Satoshi is tempted, gives in to temptation, and then has to endure his whole world apparently falling apart
  • Act II would see  Satoshi and his brother, Masahiro, escape disaster and try to restore their fortunes from hiding
  • Act III would likewise have a three-part structure, in which Satoshi tries to defeat his nemesis without changing the attitudes that got him into trouble in the first place, is nearly destroyed, and then makes the personal leap that allows him to triumph

We settled on most of this during a single planning session. As I recall, it took only a couple of hours to hammer out the basics, including some preliminary plot sketches.

Whether or not other writers are quite this calculated at the beginning of a project (and certainly I have not been in any of the novels I’ve written thus far), determined calculation was, we thought, the only effective method available to us that would allow a fast start.

We did this work in a face-to-face session. But as Pt 3 will demonstrate, technology means we weren’t required to work this way.


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