The Silver Lining | Books with unconventional structures

As you may or may not know, my novel KASEY SCREWS UP THE WORLD has a somewhat unique structure. Every other chapter is told in blog format. This is essential to the story because the main character, Kasey, is blogging to confess her sins to those she hurt. And of course, because she’s blogging part of the narrative, the other characters react to what they read, which provides conflict and amps the tension.

This is what Google thinks is a Book with a Unique Structure

I chose to tell the book in an unconventional way because it helped make Kasey liable for her actions. It forces her to tell her side of the story without chickening out because the blog holds her accountable. Not only that but the very act of writing out her story helps mend at least one severed relationship when the blog gives another character understanding and insight into why she did what she did. Without the blog, that character would forever hate her.

If the Past sections had been straight up narrative, the stakes would be a lot lower. Kasey’s quest to repent for her sins and make things right for the people she hurt would be fraught with a lot of dead ends because those people would refuse to hear her out. With a blog, they can listen to what she has to say on their own terms. And they can turn her words into revenge when they use them against her–which also increases the stakes.

If KASEY SCREWS UP THE WORLD was a Picture Book, it might look like this.

Using a unique structure was not without challenges. The Past still had to be told in scenes, otherwise the blog sections would have been filled with lots of exposition and telling instead of showing. I chose to resolve this in a simple way: create a blog header, start each post with a simple sentence or two introduction, a line break, then go straight into the narrative. It looks like this:

 

WHEN YOU WISH YOU WERE THE STAR Posted by Kasey at 7:17 PM

 

Tuesday, September 9

Current Past Mood: Apprehensive

SAT Word Of The Day:  Quell. Definition: Not quelling fears but delusions.

 

I wrote this post with a squeeze ball in hand. I suggest you read it with one as well.

In early drafts of the book, I also had comments after every post with reactions from the other characters. As my agent wisely pointed out, this led to too much telling and not enough showing. I turned most of the comments into actual scenes in the Present timeline and instead only gave comments when absolutely vital to the plot, such a when a “character” who has been incommunicado (and in a different physical location from Kasey) comments for the first time. The word “character” is in quotes because Kasey is unsure if it’s actually the character or just one of her classmates messing with her by pretending to be that character.

And sometimes the comments are just to add humor and reinforce the structure. For example:

Displaying 2 out of 2 comments

 

Anonymous said…

Consultez ce lien porno.

 

Kasey said…

Yes, I know it’s pathetic that I didn’t delete the foreign language porn comment. But this way it looks like I have friends commenting.

 

Here are some tips to follow if you want to write a book with a unique structure.

  1. Make sure the unconventional structure is vital to the plot and not just a gimmick. This means that without the structure, the book would fall apart.
  2. Scenes should be told as narrative to avoid telling instead of showing.
  3. Know when to show instead of tell. This is different than Tip 2 because of my experience with the old version of comments on Kasey’s blog that are now straight up narrative.
  4. The unique structure should raise stakes, increase conflict, or add mystery. Or all of the above.
  5. Keep the non-narrative stuff short and snappy. The intro sentences on Kasey’s blog only ever veer into paragraph-land when absolutely necessary (such as the very first blog post where Kasey introduces the blog both to HER readers and actual readers of the book).

Have you written a book with a unique structure? If so, please blog about it and share some tips!

Tomorrow I will feature a list of books that use a unique structure.

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