Story Structure | Filling the “Plot-holes”

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

Story structure is something I’ve worked long and hard to learn. If I wrote detective fiction or romance novels, I’d have a readymade scaffolding onto which I could hang my plot hooks and turning points. Those genres have conventions no writer of genre fiction can afford to ignore.

With literary fiction, however, story structure isn’t predetermined. Plots emerge from the characters themselves: what drives them; the troubles they carry around; and, their obsessions and self-deceptions. Each new writing project demands that writers revisit their assumptions about what makes stories work.

My main assumption is that when my feelings are fully engaged, and when I’m writing with a sense of discovery, I’m on the right track. Put simply, when I can’t wait to see what happens, I assume the reader will catch my enthusiasm.

Writing the Discovery Draft

In the first draft–sometimes called the “discovery draft”–I work very much at the sentence level. If I can capture the story’s voice, then I have a chance at evoking emotion in the reader.

If you don’t have time to fully digest this article right now, I’ve put together a about plot. Feel free to download FIND AND FIX PLOT PROBLEMS

Because I’m working on voice and sentences, I don’t start out knowing what’s going to happen every step of the way. At most I’ll have two or three “must-have” scenes in mind. I write these first, and then I write “toward” them–the events that happen just before the fully imagined scenes or just after them.

Often I have a hazy sense–based on a two-sentence plotting method I discuss in this post–about how the novel’s going to turn out; but, I don’t know the specifics of how the character gets from Point A to Point B.

To discover who that are and what they’re