The Journal: Some Thoughts on Structure

In today’s Journal

* Getting back in the habit
* Topic: Some Thoughts on Structure
* A side note
* Today
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

I’m trying to get back in the habit of building this Journal through the day, writing fiction, and then posting everything at once in the afternoon. To that end, I’ve added the daily update for my WIP back into the numbers below.

Hard as it may be to believe, I started Blackwell Ops 7 way back on August 7. Yet in all that time, yesterday was only the 17th writing day for that novel. I allowed several things to sidetrack me and I wrote only a little over a thousand words of fiction. Still, I expect this one to be finished before the month is out.

But today is Saturday. I rolled out early (2 a.m.) because most of today will be devoted to being as normal as I can (as opposed to being fiction-writerly) and spend time with my bride. So I want to get done what I can do before the world wakes up.

I also want this Journal to remain relevant and important to you, though, so I’ll also post a topic.

Topic: Some Thoughts on Structure

I sent this, in slightly different form, to my patrons about a week ago. I won’t share everything here that I share with them. To get in on that, visit my patronage page.

If you write short fiction, it’s important to learn and understand the structure of short stories (or of vignettes, or both). If you write novels, of course, the same thing applies. Fortunately, acquiring the various types of structure isn’t difficult.

Short Fiction

If you’ve read a lot of short fiction — and why wouldn’t you if that’s what you want to write? — you’ve already subconsciously absorbed that structure. Your subconscious mind “knows” even if you believe you don’t.

So if you’ve read a lot of short fiction, all you have to know is that the short story is always about One Event. No more. That’s the whole trick to writing short fiction.

A short story has an opening, during which you ground the reader (pull him in), a middle, and a satisfactory resolution. Or if you want to look at structure from a bits-and-pieces standpoint, it has a character with a problem in a setting — and a satisfactory resolution.

The vignette is the same, except for the resolution. It doesn’t have one. It’s simply a scene, a slice of life. The reader is left to infer his own resolution. In a way, short story writers and novelists write vignettes all the time, though as part of a larger work.

(Note: If you supply a specific resolution, even through implication, the scene is still resolved into a complete short story: See Frank Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger?” or my own flash fiction short story “At Confession.”)

So the vignette… If, as you’re walking along a sidewalk, you pass an open window and overhear an argument or part of an argument and write it down, that’s a vignette. If you stop and listen until the argument is concluded (and resolved) and write it down, that’s a short story.

Novellas and Novels

If you write novels, it’s important to learn and understand the structure of novels. I’m not talking about the “act” structures (3-act, 5-act, 7-act) or even about the expectations readers have in particular genres. It’s important to learn those as well. Learn with the conscious mind and apply with the creative subconscious.


If you read a lot of novels — and again, why wouldn’t you if that’s what you want to write? — you subconsciously absorb novel structure anyway. So really, if you read, you’re all set. All that remains is to trust that you’re all set. All you need to know beyond what your subconscious mind already knows is that the novel begins with a character who has a problem in a setting. Sound familiar?

But unlike the short story, the novel is about several events, each of which leads to the next until you reach — you guessed it — a satisfactory resolution.

You might have picked up that the primary difference between the short story and the novel is the number of events covered by each. Simple as it sounds, that is correct.

In fact, many writers have written both at one time (see Isabel Allende’s The Stories of Eva Luna). I’ve often pulled scenes out of my novels, resolved them, and published them as stand-alone short stories.

Why? Because a novel is one publication (one more time my name gets “out there”). But a novel plus three short stories derived from that novel is four publications. (grin) It’s called discoverability. And any of the short stories will introduce the same reader to the other shorts and to the novel and to the novel series if there is one.

So is it important to take workshops in which you study structure? For example, the 3-act (or 5-act or 7-act) structure? Sure. Of course. But learn and absorb it with your conscious mind (just as you learned how to form letters into words and where to put a period or a question mark back in the day) and then don’t worry about it.

Just write. Your subconscious mind will supply what you need without conscious thought on your part.

A final note, and here I’ll invoke that conscious, critical mind: If part of a particular short story or novel that you’re reading blows you away, first, finish reading it for pleasure. Then go back and study the part(s) that blew you away to determine how the writer pulled that off.

Next to reading for pleasure in the first place, that’s the easiest and quickest way to learn structure.

Hope you found this helpful. Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

A side note, appropos to nothing: The ability to use cliffhangers is important. If you aren’t aware of the several kinds of cliffhangers, I recommend WMG Publishings “Cliffhangers” classic workshop.

Today, I probably won’t write fiction. This morning I was moved to write a couple of topics, and that took some time. One is above. The other, I just sent via email to my patrons.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Now Dead Again” at

Wow. See “The Messy Legal Fight to Bring Celebrities Back From the Dead” at Story ideas, anyone?

See “A Writer’s Thanksgiving” at

The Numbers

Writing of Blackwell Ops 7: Philip Dunstan
(Brought forward…… 25849)

Day 16…… 1700 words. Total words to date…… 27549
Day 17…… 1018 words. Total words to date…… 28567
Day 18…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Fiction words yesterday…………………… 1018
Nonfiction words today…………… 1940 (1070, Journal) 870, other topic)

Total fiction words for the month……… 9199
Total fiction words for the year………… 394292
Total nonfiction words for the month… 17060
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 298140
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 692432

Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 7
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 43
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 197
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31