Studying Structure


It is not a stretch to say that I’ve spent most of my waking moments since 1975, the year I learned to read, lost inside written stories of one kind or another. If I know anything about storytelling, it was soaked up from these stories, good ones and bad ones, over the past four decades. This knowing has worked its way into my brain, and I draw on it when I write stories of my own. I’m sure of this. But talking about this mysterious knowledge? Articulating why I make certain choices in certain books. (Why a second person narrative in Citizen Scientists? Why that book-ended structure of The Hive Detectives?) Well, I find it hard.

As a writer who spent her career training days studying yeast cells in a laboratory instead of reading the classics and writing stories, I’m always a bit sheepish about talking shop. What do I know about writing? Only this: there is a beautiful logic to storytelling, and it is possible to feel this logic on an instinctual and mostly subconscious level. Which is a really fine way of saying: uh, not much.

But—and here’s the point of this post–I’ve decided to start talking about them anyway. I’d like to understand my own choices better, actually, and doing so is going to involve studying the logic that guided the choices. Deeply.

(Hey … maybe I’m maturing as a writer? One can hope.)

Anyway, since my years of writing children’s nonfiction has helped me realize that the key moment in my writing process is the discovery of the structure a story should take, I’m going to start my study there.  In this all-important moment—I swear there is an audible click!—all the ideas and facts and interview notes and people and places I’ve been researching settle themselves into a clear pattern. A structure. And this structure dictates how I’ll write the story.  I’m going to spend some time in the coming months thinking harder about this moment, about structure I’ve used in my books, and about the structures that work so well in the books of children’s nonfiction I admire.

You, dear reader, can join me if you’d like.  Stay tuned …