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I'm writing a novel that will have 9 chapters. Most of the chapters have the same structure:

  1. The main character goes down a hole she found in her room.

  2. She finds herself in a strange part of the city and has a conversation with a strange character.

  3. She returns from the hole and discovers that something has changed in the world she came from.

Each chapter deals with a theme. The conversations she has with the strange characters and the changes in the world around her have something to do with each theme.

Question:

I wonder if using the same structure in each chapter and defining the themes in each of them is somehow a "bad" way of writing a novel.

If not, I would like to know how to make it so that the structure is not that obvious for the reader.

(One thing that I did was to start some chapters with the character having already jumped in the hole.)


EDIT:

Here is a summary of the second and third chapters (to give you a better idea):

2nd Chapter:

Erin's father is in prison for raping her sister. She had promised her mom that she would visit him. She takes the train and reaches the prison, but she backs up at the last minute and returns home without seeing him. That night she realizes that the hole in the floor of her room has gotten bigger. She enters (there are some boxes and a corridor with a door) and finds herself in a empty alley (she's still in the same city). She enters a bar and has a conversation with a strange man. He talks with her about good and evil and questions whether they exist at all. She then returns from the hole and goes to sleep. In the morning she resolves to visit her father. But when she goes to call him in advance, he is no longer in prison but at the hospital. Erin calls her mother and discovers that her father has always been in the hospital, and was never in prison. Erin finds this very puzzling because she knows that her father has always been in prison. She goes to the hospital to visit him and finally reunites with her father.

3rd Chapter:

Erin's cat has disappeared and she looks around the area in search of the missing feline. Right after she gives up, her landlord calls to tell Erin that she found the cat. When Erin meets the landlord she finds that her cat is dead. Erin goes to her room and notices that there are pawprints leading down into the hole. She enters the hole and follows them until she reaches a subway. There is no one in the subway except a girl who is standing on the edge of the platform. Erin tries to find out what she is planning to do. The girl talks with Erin about life and death, believing them to be one and the same. At the end, the train comes and the girls board it. Erin gets out from the hole and goes back to her room to find a baby cat that resembles her recently deceased pet. She finally decides to take care of the new cat.

  • Something very similar to this structure was used in Ekaterina Sedia's The Secret History of Moscow, so it can be done in published works. However, I hated that book, and hated the repetitiveness of the structure, so YMMV. – JSBձոգչ Aug 10 '12 at 17:15
  • alex, as I've said before, your English is excellent for a second-language learner. But I think some/many of the mistakes you make are either made because you weren't paying attention, or because you have overlooked a few details in your English education. For instance, your verb conjugation is almost always correct, but then you go and say "He have..." I think you know that's wrong, am I right? – temporary_user_name Aug 10 '12 at 23:36
  • @Aerovistae Yeah, sorry, I forgot to 'proofread' the question. – Alexandro Chen Aug 11 '12 at 4:17
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Actually I find the repeated structure interesting. Clearly something is going on, some kind of external magical force which is creating changes in the "real world."

My only advice would be not to be too obvious about how her conversations down the rabbit hole affect the world she returns to, unless you intend for there to be a literal one-to-one correspondence. That is, if the magical world is symbolic, she shouldn't have a talk with someone in the Rabbit Hole bar about how forgiveness is healing and then return to reality and her sister's broken arm is no longer broken. If the magical world is literal, then she could find a Barbie doll and pop its arm back into its socket, which would result in her sister's arm no longer being broken.

Do you intend to explain how the conversations in the rabbit hole world affect reality?

  • Is not that obvious and it is not explained. For instance the 'theory' of the second chapter is that if good and evil doesn't exist there won't be people in jail (instead they will be treated as patients). But the novel never reveals the connections (the main character is only aware in a subconscious level). – Alexandro Chen Aug 10 '12 at 10:11
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    I'd have to see the actual work to judge whether it's anvilicious. But if there's a change every time she comes back, and it's thematically related to her conversation, then you have revealed the connection. You just haven't explained why or how it's happening. And if she's only aware on a subconscious level (so she doesn't retain memory through the shifts), why does she keep going down the holes? – Lauren Ipsum Aug 10 '12 at 12:59
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To me the structure is fine, but your POV character definitely needs an arc, and a goal, These trips should have an arc that mirrors hers.

My example, off the top of my head:

She may, on the first two, not realize the connection, but after the third should definitely see it. There needs to be an escalation in what she accomplishes, perhaps a setback due to an unexpected outcome. There needs to be a reason she stops these trips after the ninth: She has done her thing, the hole itself is gone, etc. Perhaps in the end, she has successfully rescued her ill (or dead) mother (or father, or friend).

Nine instances of "A changed B", "C changed D", etc, all isolated instances, will not be that entertaining. The novel should have a setup (Act I) that ends in a crisis, something she did not want to happen. She works to correct that, and has worse setbacks (Act II), but gains greater understanding of how the hole works, and then has a small victory (she fixed something she broke) to end ACT II, then after trip 8 she finally understands how the hole works: But for trip 9, knowing that, she risks a great deal to make a change as drastic as preventing her father from being killed in a car accident, she might risk death herself. But she undertakes it anyway, because she has steel, and she succeeds. But as soon as she exits the hole, one of the changes she has caused makes the hole seal up before her eyes.

You get only one big one, kid. Then her father walks in the room, and tells her if she doesn't get her room clean TODAY she will be grounded for a MONTH! Then she flies into his arms.

2

There is nothing wrong with choosing such a structure. By the end of the second or third chapter, the reader may appreciate the regularity.

There will be some challenges. I assume the changes which occur in the world will serve some overarching narrative. You must advance this narrative within each chapter somehow. Intermingling the events from inside and outside the hole effectively will likely be challenging. On the other hand, if you choose to make this a completely episodic story with no greater plot, then you must convey this to the reader early. You must prepare the reader for your endgame.

Any structure is like a set of handcuffs. It limits your choices. The ability to tell a compelling story within that structure is all that matters. Ideally, you already have a plan to handle plot resolution within the confines you've chosen. Either way, your early readers can provide feedback on what they found confusing or lacking.

1

This poem is one of the best ever written, for my tastes, and is worth reading.

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/stevens-13ways.html

The poem has thirteen stanzas, each contributing its own elegant detail to the overall portrait of the blackbird.

Any stanza in the poem could stand on its own. Each one is beautiful. But together they make something truly perfect.

My point in bringing this up is that anyone reading the poem can see that each stanza has the same idea in mind, even if the detail and form vary. Each one helps to construct the blackbird. There's no hiding that, nor should it be hidden. It's the point of the poem.

From the sound of your story, there is no "making it not obvious to the reader." Your story is defined by its structure. If you're embarrassed by the structure and wish to hide it, perhaps its because you don't actually think it's a good idea, and are unhappy writing it. So stop! Change it!

But otherwise, stop trying to hide it. It's there, and that's that. Now focus on making the hole-centered adventures as engaging as possible, and the thematically significant changes in the protagonist's world as intriguing and thought-provoking as you can.

There is no such thing as a bad novel structure.

There is only an author who made it work, or didn't. Can you make it work? Just because you can't, doesn't mean it can't be done. You're focusing on the wrong thing. Of course it's not bad. The real question is whether it's what you want, and what you're confident in writing.


I feel like many people may angrily contradict the statement I'm about to make, but really I never could understand this concept of asking other people "Do you like my idea? Is this good?" When I've written something, I know, innately, without asking anyone, whether it's good or not. Being a good writer, I am by nature an even better reader, and therefore it's plain as day to me whether I pulled it off right, whether my story is (for its target audience) almost indisputably of good quality. And I am a very harsh self-critic.

Am I alone in this sentiment?

What I mean to say, Alex, is that you should be able to answer this on your own. Read what you've written. How does it sound to you? Do you like it? Does it sound professional? Does it flow flawlessly? Are you distracted from the story by its structure?

I certainly respect the idea of asking other people for their opinion on your work. That goes without saying.

I'm just saying that I don't start asking for other people's thoughts until I'm very pleased with the work myself, and it doesn't sound like you are.

  • Yeah, after writing five chapters I realized that I'm not satisfied with the work. I think I'm going to drop the project. – Alexandro Chen Aug 11 '12 at 4:18
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    @alexchenco, Hmm... That's- harsh? – Mussri Aug 11 '12 at 5:44
  • @Aerovistae, Paragraph number one in the second section is the crown of this answer, period. – Mussri Aug 11 '12 at 6:08
  • @Mussri Yeah, the answers helped me to figure out that. I think I can come up with a better story if I start from zero. – Alexandro Chen Aug 11 '12 at 6:37
  • @alexchenco He means you may be overreacting, and I agree. From the sound of it, your story wasn't working out for you, which is totally okay. Very normal/common. Mussri is right to suggest that you be sure about this-- are you positive there's no way you can change it to make it better? Are you sure you want to abandon it completely? I mean, it might turn into something completely different after you think about it enough, and start it again, from scratch. Initial versions often have nothing in common with final drafts. – temporary_user_name Aug 11 '12 at 6:57

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