Now available is K.M. Weiland’s new book of writing advice “Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story.”. I was lucky enough to be provided an Advanced Reader E-Copy to review.
I’ve been listening to Weiland’s Wordplay podcast for a long time now (I’ve gone back and listened from the beginning) and her book “Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way To Success” is a large reason I’m an outliner today. I’ve also very much enjoyed “Dreamlander” from the fiction side of her oeuvre.
Read on for a review!
Structuring Your Novel, at face value very much follows in the footsteps of “Outlining Your Novel”. The two go hand in hand in my mind. Outlining is, in part, planning your story’s structure. Planning your story’s structure, gives you a road map that is the skeleton of an outline. (Hint to K.M. Sell a boxed set!) The two go together for me like milk and cookies, beer and pretzels. It’s a great book and it goes well with its older sibling.
Structuring Your Novel is split into three major parts:
1 – Story Structure
2 – Scene Structure
3 – Sentence Structure
Part One – Story Structure
The first part is the one I imagined would be the book when I first heard the title. It covers many of the topics we see often when we discuss the craft of writing, such as where to begin (Chapter 2), the story’s Hook (Chapter 1) or The Climax (Chapter 10). Each of the three acts are well covered.
To say there’s nothing new under the sun would be disingenuous. It’s not about what’s new, it’s about how to make it our own. Even when covering the old standbys, Weiland’s voice is fresh and engaging. She covers the material with grace and originality and has insights that I haven’t seen in many other places. Her discussion “Introducing the Stakes” (Chapter 5 – The First Act Part 2) along with “Introducing the Settings” where of particular interest to me and not something I’d seen in elsewhere. Another example of an under appreciated subject would be the Inciting event versus Key Event, which caused me to rethink my current WIP a little.
From the first, Weiland speaks with authority without sounding dogmatic, allowing for the writer’s cardinal rule “There are no rules” to be in play. It isn’t a question of absolutely having event Y happen at X% of your story. Weiland shows you what works, why it works and how you can apply it. The actual application, as always, is up to the writer and almost every section of the book discusses variations.
This brings me to what may be one of my favorite things about this book that Weiland has done. In every chapter she uses well known examples from across the spectrum of literature and cinema to bring to life the subject of the section. Almost any reader will find something familiar which allows the subject being discussed to be demonstrated with clarity. To me, that’s what gives me an “A-ha!” moment, even on a subject that I understand and am familiar with.
Her big four examples that she uses to great effect in every section are:
1 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2 – It’s a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra
3 – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
4 – Master and Commander by Peter Weir
There are also references to many other words such as “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss, “Hunger Games” by Susanne Collins and “Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks. There’s bound to be something familiar there for everyone.
Part Two – Scene Structure
Part two, “Scene Structure” is where we start getting more and more off the beaten path in my opinion and into some really interesting meat to chew on. Part two covers the basic building blocks of the scene (Chapter 14) as well as digs into the nitty gritty behind them. The concept of scene and scene sequels is very well discussed. This was, for me, the most helpful part of the book. The three act structure, very well presented and discussed by Weiland in part 1 was great, but anyone with a decent education in English literature is at least passably familiar with it. Scene structure is a different story for me, as was the scene and sequel concept. This section was possibly the most interesting and useful to me at this stage of my writing.
The “Take Away Value” section at the end of each chapter is reminiscent of a school book, but I found it really essential to help hammer home the salient points of each chapter’s subject. In part two, I found them invaluable.
Part Three – Sentence Structure
Part three, “Sentence Structure” was a pleasant surprise. I don’t enjoy reading about syntax and sentence structure and I didn’t expect to when Weiland announced this book. It is key to the craft, so I usually force myself to read and learn.
Here again, Weiland’s voice helps pull you through. She covers a technical subject with grace, poise and just the right amount of details.
My only quibble here, and this is mostly a personal thing, is that this section seemed more prone to jargon than the others. Throw too many acronyms at me and I tend to turn off.
While I said about that part two was the most interesting and useful for me at this time, I can guarantee you that part three will be the one I read and re-read a dozen times as I re-write and edit my stories.
In general, throughout the book, there are many lovely touches that worked for me. A recurring pleasant thing, and this will likely be just as striking to avid listeners of “The Wordplay” podcast, was recognizing subjects she’s covered and the examples used (the book is more in-depth, so it’s worth reading. This isn’t a straight up copy of various podcasts.) and getting a “Hey! I remember that moment.”.
I enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. The two favorites of mine are both in part 2. She quoted Shatner, since I’m a big nerd, that earned some points there (not that this book needed any.)
Overall, I love this book. It’s a solid and worthy addition to my toolkit as a writer. I highly recommend it. I’d go so far as to recommend reading it as well as “Outlining Your Novel”. The advice in both go hand in hand in creating a great story.