The Urge to Structure—Phase Two of Building a Book

How do you know you are in the structuring phase of building your book?

  1. You’re beginning to wonder the point of your story.
  2. You’re getting overwhelmed by too many islands, ideas, chapters, research, or information and want to begin to organize them.
  3. You’re curious about how you might start your book.
  4. You’re beginning to see a clear way to begin or end but are flummoxed about the middle.
  5. You are working from an outline but it seems too restrictive, and you want to include more ideas but aren’t sure how they fit.
  6. You are realizing you have more than one story-and wonder if you can include it in your book.
  7. You have letters, journal entries, or important backstory (history) to use but are confused as to where it might fit.

Structuring begins to happen anytime-you can move into the structuring phase when you only have ten pages written, using it as a brainstorming tool for planning which islands to write next.


You can also wait until you have a substantial amount of islands (scenes, fragments, ideas) written out.


Either option works well.   


I usually use the structuring phase when I first begin a book. I write a little then I play with possible structures. From my structure exploration (storyboarding) I get many ideas on what to write. Then I go back to the gathering phase to do the writing.


This may seem backwards to you. In many writing classes, especially in high school and college, we’re taught to use an outline, which assumes we know our structure before we begin to write-fairly ludicrous to expect this, yes? Except for some nonfiction projects which are well researched early on, or a book idea you’ve been simmering in your mind for many months or years, it’s impossible to guess a good flow without experimenting on paper.


So, an outline is a often “best guess.” You end up redoing it as you learn more about your book, which is fine. The danger with an outline is that our linear brain gets ahold of it and decides the imposed order of the outlined topics is set in stone. It becomes very hard to change.


It’s far easier to use a storyboard to play with ideas and a possible structure for your book. Storyboards are used by many, many publishers.  


As a book doctor and editor, I was often hired to take a manuscript and analyze its structure. One project recently was for a writer in New York City whose latest novel had been rejected by a dozen major publishers. I came in for the structure analysis.  


I storyboarded the book and voila, the problem emerged. Two of the four characters had narrative arcs (inner stories) which stopped mid-book.


Storyboarding is fun, easy, and fluid.  You can learn more about it here on my video, if you wish, and see what it’s like.    You can also join me on Saturday, March 28, at Grub for a one-day workshop, where I’ll take you through the steps of storyboarding.


I find it opens the creative faucet inside and I get LOTS of new ideas for my story. See if it works for you.



Mary Carroll Moore will help writers explore the inner and outer stories of their novels, memoirs, and nonfiction books on Saturday, March 28, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at Grub Street.  This class often sells out, so register soon!

© Image Copyright Roger Davies and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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About the Author

Mary Carroll Moore’s thirteen published books include the award-winning Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir or Nonfiction Book, based on her How to Plan, Write and Develop a Book writing workshops; PEN/Faulkner nominated novel Qualities of Light (Bella Books); How to Master Change in Your Life: Sixty-seven Ways to Handle Life’s Toughest Moments (Eckankar Books); Cholesterol Cures (Rodale Press), and the award-winning Healthy Cooking (Ortho Publications). A former nationally syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, over 300 of Mary’s essays, short stories, articles, and poetry have appeared in literary journals, magazines, and newspapers around the U.S. and have won awards with the McKnight Awards for Creative Prose, Glimmer Train Press, the Loft Mentor Series, and other writing competitions. She teaches creative writing in New York, Boston, New Hampshire, and Minnesota and writes a weekly blog for book writers at

See other articles by Mary Carroll Moore
by Mary Carroll Moore


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