Target My Structure

I’ve mentioned before that I have had many problems structuring my book. With 200,000 words of memoir already written, I was overwhelmed and confused about how best to structure the story. What to leave in and what to take out. Whether to organize chronologically or thematically.

So I was very happy to find the book, Blueprint Your Bestseller, by Stuart Horwitz. His “architectural” method is really working for me.


In following Horwitz’ plan, some of the first steps include identifying all the series in your book. You can’t know this until you have enough scenes written.  So if you don’t have 50,000 or more words, I would just write out your scenes first. Then find all your series.  A series is anything that has “iterations.” Repetitions, a pattern. But not just any pattern–a pattern where the series “undergoes a clear evolution.” It happens or shows up more than once and changes a bit? It’s probably a series.

Series can be symbols or metaphors like the hat that Holden wears in Catcher in the Rye. They can be characters, objects, phrases, settings, absolutely anything. When I worked on this aspect, I was shocked to discover that many of my series are emotions, such as anger, fear, and shame. Of course, these emotions don’t exist by themselves. They are represented by tangible events or objects, such as locked rooms and guns.

In another early step in this method, I discovered the “One Thing” my book is about. Horwitz took me on a sure path to find this out through a step by step process.

Every time I work on a new step I experience an epiphany about my book.

This past week I accomplished the next step. I created a target for my book, putting my “One Thing” in the center bullseye location. Then I placed post-it notes representing scenes (pink), series (yellow), characters (blue), and settings (green) on the board.  Horwitz says, “The trick of the exercise is to put the narrative element closer to or farther from the bull’s-eye, or theme, depending on the strength of the relationship.” Doing this project, allowed me to see that certain scenes and settings were too far removed, whereas there is a close-knit relationship between everything else.

Caveat: I have so many scenes that I did not place all my scenes on the board. It would have been impossible. I expect to weed out scenes in the next step of the process.


The architecture method is supposed to work with any book, no matter the genre.

As a blogger or a writer, do you ever have problems with structure?


Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

46 responses to “Target My Structure

  1. I am glad you found this. Organization can be key, especially once you exceed 20, 000 words. I got to about the 1/3 mark in my current book and had to do an outline, even though I am a panster, because details were slipping away. Good luck with getting yours laid out like you want theme or chronology.

    • Luanne

      I don’t like outlines because of how they can eliminate the discovery process, but when you have a novel plot already in your head I can see that a VERY loose outline might be necessary. Thanks so much!

  2. I have tried outlined but they usually get abandoned along the way and I plot as I write. I keep a basic structure in my head though.

    • Luanne

      I think outlines are for the birds in creative nonfiction. And really in all writing, if they really worked, the quotations about writing being where the writer learns by writing would be wrong!

  3. I’ve heard good things about this book, Luanne. It sounds as though you’re making great strides. Keep it up!
    I struggle with structure mainly because I fight it. I don’t like to outline, but you here so often that you should.

    • Luanne

      If you outline too tightly where is the discovery process in writing? That defies logic for being the most creative you can be. I love the idea of writing the scenes first and then organizing them using Horwitz’ method!

  4. This looks like a great find (just put it on my TBR list). I am really glad it works for you, Luanne.
    I am working with mind maps and post-it notes. Whenever I get stuck with a character – I write a short story about her/him – to get to know her/him better.

    • Luanne

      Karen, that is such a from-the-inside way of writing–I really love the idea of writing the short stories about your characters!

  5. This post really got me thinking about what I’m doing with my next novel. Lots of good ideas here.

  6. My posts are often short – less than 700 words – and usually I have just one point to make so structure hasn’t been an issue, yet. Nonetheless, I can see this book would be really helpful, especially knitting togethervignettes you might think don’t have a common element.

    All this talk about your book has me salivating, Luanne. You know you’ll have created quite a demand by the time it gets published!

    • Luanne

      Aw, that’s really sweet. Haha, it would be great if I was trying to get you salivating over it. Unfortunately, it’s just taking so long it might hold the record for longest book writing project ever in the history of humankind.

  7. Luanne, I love that you share your process with others. What a generous gift. Always cheering you on, my friend. xoxo

    • Luanne

      Rudri, and I appreciate you so much!! This book is helping me narrow in on things–loving it. xo

  8. This book sounds great, Luanne. Best of luck with the memoir 🙂

    • Luanne

      Thank you, Dianne!! It’s sure a lot of work, but I have no deadline (thank goodness!!!). Yes, Horwitz’ book is amazing. It’s not formulaic or reductive–just pure genius.

  9. Great TARGET board, Luanne! It really is revealing, isn’t it? I’ll be packing my copy of Blueprint Your Bestseller when I head to Dorland for my writing residency on Sunday. I can’t wait to get in there and discover what my book project really needs for the next big draft. I’ll take photos too!

    • Luanne

      I’m so jealous that you are going to have all that focused time for writing! And I can’t wait to hear about it!! Break a leg (in the theatrical sense), Windy!

  10. I am looking at your bulls’ eye and appreciating that this process is taking a lot of work! I am so glad you feel this author’s structural advice is really helping you to organize and analyze your memoir. I admire that you have so much written, this is a great amount of writing accomplished, Luanne!! Keep up the good work and you will have a finished and magnificent story!

    • Luanne

      Robin, thank you so much for all your support! It means so much to me! And I hope your weather is lovely this week, especially when it gets to your time off this weekend!

  11. Many good points here, Luanne. I feel like mine is the longest process, but either way, I hope we both makes leaps and bounds now. 🙂 Great post.

  12. Oh, wow, Luanne! Good for you- 50,000 words written is an amazing accomplishment! I need to read the above mentioned book as I am beginning to see patterns and events unfold as I write my thoughts and little truths. I struggle to link the events though and of course past or present tense can throw me off course. I write and edit, edit, edit. Can you suggest a good Word Processing program to write a manuscript in? i am just using Word and then copy and paste into a Journal style format. It’s not an ideal method.

    • Luanne

      Lynne, actually I have 200,000 written! Needless to say, a lot of them won’t end up in the book! Why don’t you not worry about the tense stuff until a revision? Why don’t you just get it all written and then go through and edit and revise it?
      There are people who swear by Scrivener. It allows you to put your manuscript together by scene and rearrange, plus it lets you put in notes, including research, etc. I bought it, thinking it would be a miracle, but I spent so much time on learning the software and then monkey around with it, I finally took it all back out of Scrivener and am sticking to Word. But check out Scrivener–you might love it!

      • Thank you for the tip re: Shrivener and just writing it all down and editing later. I am hyper focused on tense as the critique group is on me about that- lol. Anyways, I am making tense progress- lol! Lately, I have been tossing ideas that pass through my mind into notes on my i phone. I do feel frustrated as I attempt to weave the “stories” into the manuscript format I found in the Word Program. I tend to write in Word too and then copy and paste to the Journal style book I found in Word. It’s a bit finicky at times!
        Wow- you have been writing a lot my friend!

  13. Thanks for the recommendation, Luanne. This sounds like a book I would find very useful. By the way, I bought a copy of Scrivener a few years ago. I still have not used it beyond writing up one character. I know so many people who swear by it, but it’s the learning curve that gives me pause. I’m not afraid to learn. I just can’t get excited about software that I may need to sit through hours of tutorials in order to fully understand.

    • Marie, that’s the way it is for me with Scrivener. It is so time-consuming that I get frustrated at all the time lost from writing. I just don’t have enough spare time to work on it. And I didn’t see that it was accomplishing enough for me. It was kind of like a distraction with shiny doodads. Another computer time suck.
      Horwitz’ book is amazing . . . .

  14. The target board looks great! I have problems with structure in my writing all the time, especially lately. Words haven’t come so freely, and I think this happens when we have a lot on our minds or hearts, or are distracted in any way. Thanks for the great tips on structure…. can’t wait until the day your memoir is complete so I can purchase a copy 🙂

    • Caitlin, that’s true that sometimes we are too distracted to write well. But by writing in small scenes it can get words on paper, knowing that you can put it all together later, using the book architecture method!!

  15. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this. Quite a different way to look at memoirs as well as construct them.

    • You can supposedly construct any book-length story this way, fiction or nonfiction. I find it really useful for memoir because the stuff has already happened and you have to be able to put it together into a narrative that works as an engaging story. So writing scenes first came naturally to me. It was finding the way to structure that was so difficult.

  16. Luanne, I can’t believe that you have 200,000 words. That’s amazing. In my own editing of my novel I tend to add to it rather than delete. I tend to outline for the first draft but it’s a flexible outline because it’s a process where I get to know my characters. But it’s different for a memoir. When I wrote my memoir after my sister died (Mourning Has Broken) I didn’t really have a plan. I started off with saying that I would write about my grief for one year…that is, when I felt grief inhabit me I would document it. Throughout this mourning process other types of griefs arose and I wrote about that. It was really a discovery process. After the year was over I organized my material and edited it.
    Good luck with your manuscript. If it’s as good as your posts it will be a best-seller. 🙂

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  18. One of the best, most useful posts I’ve ever read. And I love the way you used your own work as an example. I will use it myself and share it with my memoir writing students. Thank you!

    • Lynette, ah, thank you so much for your kind words! I am so glad that you are sharing it because I think that Horwitz’ book really can get writers over that structure hump. He’s intended the book for all genres, but I think it’s most important for nonfiction.

  19. P.S. Now, not only do I want to read Horwitz’s book, but yours aw well.

  20. I enjoyed this too. You said there was a method to discover the “one thing” your novel is about. It’s been hard for me to name “one thing.” If there’s a clever trick to discover this, I’d love to know.

    • Deborah, it’s in the Blueprint Your Bestseller book. He provides a step by step method for the whole plan. It sounds formulaic, but it is actually a path to discover your book. So you start out with finding your series. Using those you narrow down to a few sentences, then two sentences, then one sentence. I highly recommend his book.

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