The Structure of Long Fiction

After an on-and-off research effort over some fifteen years for a historical fiction piece on a medieval person, I'm finally close to the actual writing.

The most common problem in such an effort is as one professor called it, "finding a way in" to the piece. This means: start as the person is born, perhaps. Or in media res, with his/her early life out of the way, begin with a significant act or event of the life. Some might even start at a person's death and then re-live it in some fashion.

First-second-third-person-examples

image via studioknow.com

Another concern is the actual structure of the piece: Is it a "linear" piece, i.e., moving along chronologically? If it begins in medias res, how do you determine flashbacks? How many, and what events do you present? A lot of this is determined by the narration: First person, present or past tense? Third person?

I decided to go with a fictional character, who attempts to "explain" the famous person's life – the Gatsby approach via a first person peripheral point of view. But still, how to structure it? As my research boils down, it seems apparent that I'm going to tell a "frame story," i.e., one story within another – in this case the fictional person tells his own story, but it must include that of the famous person, whose life has affected the peripheral, fictional character to a dramatic degree.

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2 thoughts on “The Structure of Long Fiction

  1. Not that I’m complaining, you understand….
    but you research such a subject, maybe for years, then spend a year writing. If you’re lucky, you attract some self-styled agent, who has been in the Peace Corps until he’s twenty-eight, and now thinks he knows the ins and outs of what will enthrall readers. He spends a year trying to convince an editor (read: bean-counter) at a pub house that you and his 300 other clients should have a contract. Then, if you’re lucky, you get a contract that will pay a $3,000 advance against your book sales. Of course, you have to do your own publicity and pay for your own travel to signings, most of which will only have 5-10 people there, one of which will buy a book.
    So you’ve spent maybe $7,500 of your own money, plus the $3,000 advance, and (if you’re lucky) you’ve sold 1,500 copies of the book. That means you’re not a good candidate for a second book, unless you’re lucky enough to have signed a contract for multiple books. So as a business model – for both writer and publisher – this way of writing/publishing/selling stinks.
    We writers write for various reasons, mostly because we’re bursting with stories and can’t sleep without the writing. Which is to say that, despite this business and its accompanying sucking sound, we write anyway.

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