I just finished writing my 20th full length novel! Yay! (Can you see me doing the happy dance?! ) Each and every novel is such a HUGE accomplishment, that it's hard to believe I've gone through the process 20 times.
However, the more books I complete, the more I’m realizing how difficult it is to keep producing fresh, vibrant stories. Not only does it take more work to keep the plots from being repetitious, but authors have to find new ways to describe the characters, romance, and even the settings.
Yes, writers are sometimes bound by genre constrictions. And yes, readers also expect a certain type of story when they pick up a trusted author's book. For example, my readers know they will get emotionally charged characters, a dangerous antagonist, lots of sizzling romance, and plenty of historical details that are woven into the story. If I neglected any one of my "trade marks," readers would wonder what happened.
However, expectations placed upon us by publishers, readers, or even our genre shouldn't hinder multi-published authors from striving to keep things new. When we reach a point of having written numerous books, we have to continually push deeper into the recesses of our minds to find original, creative, and fresh material for our stories. We have to dig around in the untouched areas of our imagination to bring out something new. And that digging requires a lot of effort.
Sometimes amidst the busyness of the writing life, we don’t always have the time and energy to go that extra mile. We’re working hard to keep up with deadlines or trying to get our books out in quick succession. Instead of shoveling deep and finding new treasures, we sift through the front lobe of our brains and rehash the old stuff—because it’s easier to stay there.
Here are five ways we can get lazy:
1. Using Cliches. Most of us know we need to avoid those well-known clichés. But the more books we write, the harder it gets to find original ways of saying things, and the clichés start to creep in. We have to remember if the phrase slips easily off our tongue, then it’s likely one we should avoid. I’ve found that I can reduce clichés by using more similes and metaphors—especially those that relate to my character’s interests or to the setting.
2. Telling of Emotions. Another major way writers get lazy is when we decide to tell how our character feels rather than showing it. We obviously can’t always show every little emotion and detail. Sometimes we have to name the emotion to clarify what’s going on. But when we’re tired and writing fast, we may find ourselves telling too many emotions rather than going to the hard work of showing them. We need to make sure that we’re mostly bringing our character’s feelings to life through dialog, actions, or internal narration.
3. Overusing Adjectives and Adverbs. I’m not an all-or-nothing gal. I still believe in adjectives and adverbs—if used in moderation, particularly when we can’t find a strong enough noun or verb to fit the situation. But . . . as with clichés and telling of emotions, it’s so much easier and quicker to tack on an adjective or adverb. Instead, we need to persevere to find a stronger, more telling word.
4. Camping on Pet Phrases. I always seem to land upon a pet word or phrase while writing my first draft. Thankfully, if I don’t catch the phrases myself, my editors alert me to the repetition. A simple search for the word can help me locate the trouble areas, and I’m able to delete some or find more creative ways to express that pet phrase. I also need to be careful of overusing phrases between books as well. That’s a little bit harder to catch.
5. Rehashing the Same Plot or Story. After we’ve written multiple books, we may begin to find that our stories start to sound the same, have similar threads, or even have characters that resemble one another. Perhaps we’ve even gotten tired of a favorite author because “all the stories are too much alike.” Yes, our voices will remain the same in all our books. But we can’t let our voice be an excuse for getting too comfortable with the same old, same old. We need to constantly be exploring new plot territory and searching for unique and fresh stories.
My Summary: Indeed the task before the modern writer is daunting. The bar continually rises. If we hope to keep our readers happy with each book we write, then we can’t afford to get lazy. We have to resist what comes easily to our minds, and instead be ever-exploring deeper into the creative labyrinths of our imaginations.
How about you? Have you ever gotten tired of an author because his or her books started to sound the same? What are some ways you attempt to keep things fresh in your books?
One surefire way writers can garner negative reviews is by making one or more of their main characters unlikeable. In fact creating unlikeable heroes and heroines often exasperates, irritates, and frustrates readers more than anything else.
Readers are usually willing to forgive a plot that drags in certain points. They may forgive a too-quick ending or a flat antagonist or a few clichés. But they rarely will rave about a book if they don't like the characters.
This year I'm branching into writing historicals based on the lives of real people. If you've read any of my books, then you'll know I already do this to an extent. But with my Luther & Katharinabook which releases in the fall, I'm delving into a fuller, richer look at historical couples with the hope of bringing to life women who've been overshadowed by their more popular husbands.
As we all know, real life people aren't always likeable. Martin Luther was one such man. While he did incredible things during dangerous times that changed the course of history, he was caustic, abrasive, and had bouts of melancholy.
There's nothing wrong with making our characters flawed and realistic. We want to portray humanity as it really is.
But . . . how can we do that without making our readers throw our books against the wall because they can't stand our characters? Readers simply don't want to spend hours with idiots, jerks, or even whining wallflowers. They have to spend time enough with idiots, jerks, and whining wallflowers in real life and want an escape from that when they pick up our books.
In essence readers want to find flawed BUT still loveable characters. People who make mistakes BUT still have qualities that rise above normalcy.
That's why they're called heroes and heroines, because they transcend the ordinary to be extraordinary.
That's why it's called fiction because although our stories embody real people in the real world, fiction takes reality one step further by ultimately portraying life as we would ideally like face it– fighting, striving, surviving, and then finally rising above the odds.
Such characters and stories inspire us to live better, be better, do better.
As I wrote the Luther & Katharina book I had to dig deep to bring out Luther's likeability. As I'm writing my second historical about an unlikeable guy, I've had to work even harder to find ways to make him likeable. I've had to balance the reality with the good man he is yet to become. It's been difficult but essential if I hope to create a story that readers will enjoy.
What are some ways we can make sure we're keeping our main characters likeable enough?
1. Give them noble traits that outshine the negative traits. Perhaps we’ve given a likeable quality to our main character. But the mounds of negative traits overshadow that one tiny likeable quality, drowning it out so that the reader can’t see it. We have to flip that around. Yes, show her flaws, but outshine the negative by giving her a trait(s) readers can admire (like a love for the downtrodden, self-sacrificing for others to the point of being willing to die for them, etc.).
2. Make sure the reader understands the cause of the flaws. One way to generate reader empathy for our character's flaw is make the negative trait a result of something that the character didn't choose to happen to her. For example, maybe she was abused or teased or rejected at some point in her life. When we share the history that drives the negative traits, readers will be more forgiving of the negativity.
3. Never give the character an unforgivable trait or action. We might have made our character likeable, but then she does something (or several things) that the reader finds unforgivable, completely unlikeable, and irredeemable. The event or action leaves a bad taste in the reader's mouth and often they’re unable to resume their fullest love of our character after that.
4. Make sure to bring out the likeable traits early enough. Sometimes we wait until too late in the story to bring out the likeability factor. We can’t have our character acting like a spoiled brat until the end when she finally changes. We need to have her acting, thinking, and behaving in heroic ways right from the start.
5. Let the reader inside the character's head. If the character is behaving in an unlikeable way, show the disconnect between her actions and their emotions. Get inside her head and play out her internal narration, letting the reader see that she doesn't want to be that way. A reader will be able to feel more sympathy when they realize the internal thoughts reflect that the character is really hurting or hiding something.
6. Make sure the reader can really relate to the character's flaws. Give her struggles that readers are also going through–fear, lack of self-worth, damaged pride, intimidation, need for control. If the reader can relate to the internal struggle, they're often more willing to forgive negative behaviors because they've been there and done that themselves.
7. Beware of making the character a helpless victim. No matter her past and no matter her current dangerous situation, modern readers want to see an inkling (or more!) of strength coming through in our heroine. She must have a spine which doesn't have to equate snark, sass, or spunk. Sometimes quiet strength is just as riveting.
My Summary: It’s often very difficult for us to see how we’re portraying our characters. We have an image in our minds. But what comes out on paper, what readers see, isn’t the whole picture we envisioned.
Ultimately, we should ask ourselves, “What can I do to ensure that my hero is truly a hero.”
What about YOU? Have you ever made your characters unlikeable? Do you have any other advice on how to avoid falling into the unlikeable character trap?
As a homeschooling mom of five children, the most common question I'm asked is: How do you do it all? How do you manage your large family and have the time to write?
No I'm not super woman (although there are times when my kids expect me to be!). Yes, I do get plenty of sleep (most nights!). And no, I haven't hired the TV to babysit my kids (at least not often!).
Over the years, I tried many different tricks and techniques in order to gain (or maintain) writing time in my schedule. Here are 10:
1. Take advantage of kids' downtime. When my younger children were taking naps, I used every minute they were asleep for writing. As tempting as it was to clean, pickup, or even take a nap myself, I knew I had to make the most of that quiet hour to write uninterrupted. When my kids got a little older and didn't need naps, I still required afternoon rest/reading time for an hour. It helped give them a needed break, but also gave me a block of uninterrupted writing time.
2. Pay older kids to "babysit" younger children. As my writing career began to swing into full gear and I needed more writing time, I discovered that I could pay my older children (who were in elementary school) to "babysit" my little ones. I would assign them each a child to play with, give them a time limit (like an hour), and then pay them a couple of dollars when they were done. It not only gave me more writing time, but it helped teach my older children the value of working hard to earn money.
3. Involve the whole family in household chores. As Moms we often think the entirety of the housework falls on our shoulders. But I'm of the belief that whoever lives in a house needs to help in the upkeep of that house. Therefore, over the years I've gotten my kids involved in doing laundry, cooking meals, handling yard work, etc. When everyone pitches in, we all have more free time for the things we love (including writing).
4. Bring the laptop along to activities and write while waiting in the van. Since my kids have so many activities that I drive them to, I often sit in the van and write while I wait for them. Without the distraction of the internet, the van is actually a great place to get concentrated writing done.
5. Schedule larger blocks of writing time when husband is home. This has probably been one of the biggest ways I've been able to add more writing time into my schedule. Even in the days before publication, my husband realized the benefit of supporting my mental health by giving me extended time away from the kids which I used for writing. Those larger blocks are sacred writing time. No browsing blogs or Facebook. Writing only!
6. Hire a college-age student to take the kids out a couple of times a week. I did this one summer when my kids were younger. I paid an hourly wage to an older girl who could drive and had a car for the purpose of getting my kids out of the house. She took them to parks, the pool, the library, to get ice cream, and basically anywhere to allow them to do things while I worked.
7. Rise and shine before the rest of the family. (Or be the night owl.) When I'm particularly crunched on time during the day, I schedule writing time in the wee hours of the morning before the household awakes. Again, that writing time is sacred. I don't dilly-dally responding to emails or anything else. During the uninterrupted time I simply write.
8. Set work hours and teach children to respect that time (works more for older children). As my children have grown older and can occupy themselves without constant supervision, I've had to teach them to respect my work boundaries. I usually explain my "writing hours" and expect them to respect that time. For example, I won't drive them to a friend's house or take them to the store until I'm done with my work time.
9. Involve grandparents (or other relatives) when possible. I'm blessed to have my mom live in town nearby. She often offers to assist when she knows of specific needs. But I've also had to learn to ask for help, and that's not something that comes easily to me. Over the past couple of years, we've worked out a system where she comes to my house once a week (and helps homsechool) which frees me to write.
10. Outsource work that can be done by others. I had a hard time letting go of work I thought I should be doing. But in the end, I've found that it's more profitable for me to pay someone else to do their "specialty" so that I can focus on mine–my writing. Obviously, I didn't come to this point in my career until I had a steady income. But moving in this direction has helped free up even more of my time.
What other advice do YOU have for finding more writing time?
I've been thinking a lot lately about the price of Ebooks. Since I'm traditionally published, I don't have the luxury of setting the prices of my Ebooks. That means, sometimes I like the prices of my Ebooks and there are times when I don't.
Obviously, most readers are aware by now that traditionally published Ebooks sell at a higher price than self-published books. There are a couple of reasons for the disparity.
1. Self-published authors are "in charge" of setting their own prices. In a free enterprise market, everyone knows that you're better able to drive business your way if you can under-price your competitor. That's why we all go to Walmart to buy milk for $1.98 rather than paying $2.50 at Meijer. Indie books are able to draw shoppers through the lower prices they offer, prices that traditional publishers can't offer on a regular basis. That leads to my next point . . .
2. Traditionally published books have more people involved in the publication process, thus need to generate more revenue in order to pay everyone who had a hand in the book: two or more editors, office staff, the cover design team, the cover model, photographer, the marketing staff, publicist, sales representatives, and more. And let's not forget, the author also has to be paid! No, Ebooks may not require the same "print" costs that a hard copy or paperback may incur, but as you can see, the costs of traditional publication go beyond the price tag of paper and ink.
Let's face it, low indie prices have changed the Ebook market, and so traditionally published authors who are selling their Ebooks at $9.99 are often losing out to indie authors who are selling theirs for $2.99-$4.99.
And then there is a continuous parade of Ebooks that are offered for free. If a voracious reader never wanted to pay a dime for another book, they could feast on a steady diet of books simply by downloading all of the free books.
Yes, sometimes I can't help feeling that my traditionally published Ebooks are priced too high to be competitive in the current market. I whine and moan about it from time to time. And while some traditionally published authors have gone indie so that they can set their own lower prices and retain more of the profit for themselves, for now I'm still reaping many benefits of traditional publication including higher visibility, national recognition, distribution in bookstores all across the country and world, and exposure to a pool of readers who wouldn't know about me if not for traditional publishers ability to explore wider channels.
Part of me also wonders if having such low priced books is really a good thing anyway. Over time, I've noticed a subtle shift in the mind-set of many readers. Since so many of us have grown accustomed to cheaply priced or free Ebooks, we balk if we have to pay full price on any Ebook. In fact, I've had readers comment irritably about the higher price on some of my Ebooks. After reading my free novella, Out of the Storm, which kicks off my historical romance lighthouse series, some readers have been upset that they have to pay $9.99 for the full length Ebooks.
When I get those kinds of negative comments, I want to say, "If you went to Applebees for dinner, I bet you'd pay at least $9.99 for a burger which you'd consume in an hour and have nothing to show for it later."
Or, "When you go to see the new release Jurassic World, you won't hesitate to pay $8.00 per ticket and then at least another $5.00 for popcorn and pop. The movie will last two hours, and what will you have to show for it? And what if you don't like it?"
If you pay $9.99 for an Ebook, what will you have to show for that? Hours of reading pleasure. And a book that you can loan or read over and over. Yes, there may be some books that won't ring your bell. But if you take that chance with movies, why not with books?
In reality, $9.99 for a book whether print or Ebook is a great deal. We can't purchase many other forms of entertainment that cheaply, whether it's going to a restaurant, movie, concert, theater production, sporting event, or even a museum. No other entertainment nowadays is as inexpensive or as fulfilling as the journey a reader can take in a book.
Do I wish the price of my Ebooks were lower? Sometimes. Which is why occasionally I give my publishers permission to offer my books on sale (like The Vow and An Uncertain Choice are for a limited time). But at the same time, I want readers to appreciate the bargain value that they're already getting in a book at full price and be just as willing to pay for a book as they are a burger.
How about YOU? Are YOU willing to pay as much for a book as you are for a burger?
My oldest is graduating from high school. So I'm in the midst of planning a big graduation party for him. I'm not super creative when it comes to parties (apparently I use up all my creativity in my stories!). So our party will be pretty standard without a lot of bells and whistles--in the back yard with coolers of soda, tables of dessert and appetizers, etc.
My graduating senior!
One of the most asked questions I get about my son's graduation is, "Are you sad to see him go?" Since I try to be transparent, I usually respond, "No, actually I'm ready and so is he."
I've spent 18 years of my life preparing him for this point. I've poured out my heart, energy, time, resources, and many times even my tears into raising him. Was I perfect? Absolutely not. I made many mistakes.
Let's face it, parenting is confusing and hard and filled with uncertainties. We ask ourselves over and over as we set boundaries and make decisions, "Am I doing the right thing?"
We wouldn't question ourselves so much if we didn't love our children deeply and have their best interests at heart. We teach, train, and discipline them with the hope that one day they'll be able to stand on their own two feet with all the values, skills, and character qualities that they'll need to take their place in the world.
Nevertheless, no matter how hard we try to be good parents, our children are their own individuals with their own minds, dreams, and plans. They eventually have to take flight. And eventually we have to let them.
As writers, we face the challenge of letting go of our stories. We pour our hearts, energy, time, resources, and even tears into our books. We watch our stories take shape and grow. We're filled with uncertainties and ask ourselves continually if we're doing the right thing. We subject our stories to feedback and criticism with the hope that they will one day have what it takes to stand on their own.
Just like parenting, there are some writers who can let go, maybe even too easily. And others of us perhaps cling too tightly to our stories. How do we learn to have a healthy balance of not seeking publication too soon but also not letting fear hold us back from taking the next step?
The key in writing, like parenting, is: Preparation.
I've done all I can to prepare my son to leave home. I've attempted to teach him to cook, do laundry, clean, manage his money, be responsible, have manners, etc. Notice I said, attempted. He's definitely not perfect (or even close to it!) in all areas. He has a lot of room for growth, and don't we all?
However, in spite of his short falls, he's a great kid, determined, and a hard worker. He's equipped to take the next step.
If we're struggling to know whether we're ready for publication, we need to ask ourselves: Have we spent enough time preparing? Maybe we don't need 18 years, but certainly we can't expect to be ready overnight. Have we learned necessary writing skills and techniques? Have we practiced them over and over? Have we taken the time and energy to learn all we can about the industry?
Maybe we won't be perfect. Maybe we still have room to improve, after all we're all still growing. But if we've attempted to do all we can to learn and grow, then we're likely ready to take the next step in our writing career.
My encouragement for writers seeking publication is this: We shouldn't rush to publish too early before we're ready. It may lead to undue frustrations which can take away the joy of writing. But we also can't let fear hold us back. At some point, after we've put in the time and effort, we can wisely and cautiously begin the process of seeking publication.
With enough preparation, hopefully we'll be able to say with confidence, "I'm ready and so is my book."
How do you think writers can tell if they're ready for publication? Are you rushing in to publication too soon? Or are you letting fear hold you back?
This week I got an email from Shannon, a new writer, who is confused about the publishing industry.
She said this: "I started writing a book about 3 months ago. I sent a couple of chapters to a few publishing companies. They said I would get 70% of the royalties from each sale. They offer a wide variety of places they would sell my book, but they want almost $9000 to do all the printing, publishing, and so forth. I am simply confused! Please help me! I'm new at all this and don't know the safe avenues to publish my book. Am I supposed to get discovered?"
When I read Shannon's email, I was really impressed with her passion for writing. It was clear she loves writing and has ever since she was a child.
But it was also clear that Shannon really does need some help. That's no wonder. The modern publishing industry is huge and intimidating and overwhelming, especially to those who are just beginning to test the waters of publication. It was scary for me many years ago when I first started pursuing publication, and the industry has only become more confusing.
Let me break down the publication process into 4 basic steps for Shannon and anyone else thinking of jumping in: (This process applies to fiction-writing; non-fiction can be slightly different.)
1. Finish your novel before thinking of publication.
In fact, I highly suggest finishing several novels. As I've said many times here on this blog, becoming an author requires as much training, education, and practice as any other profession.
Just because we "played doctor" as a child and became a CNA in high school, doesn't mean we're ready to work in the ER as an adult. To become a successful doctor, we'd have to go to medical school, do a residency, and then start at the bottom with the crappy jobs and work our way up.
Writing in our childhood and teen years can provide a good foundation, but to become a successful author we have to take the time, energy, and effort to learn all we can about what constitutes good fiction and how to craft a riveting story. Then we need to practice, practice, practice. And that just takes time.
2. After finishing a couple of novels, look for feedback.
I would strongly, and I do mean strongly, caution any writer who assumes her work is good enough for publication without feedback. After writing 20 novels, I STILL seek feedback on every single book. No writer is capable of viewing her work objectively enough. The work is too big, too complex, and we're too limited and enmeshed to edit our book well enough on our own.
Writers can seek out feedback in numerous ways: critique partnerships, critique groups, feedback from contest judges, or beta readers (usually non-writers who give general story feedback). After getting feedback from fellow writers and readers, then the next step is seeking out a good editor who can provide both a content edit (looking at the overall story) as well as a line edit (looking at writing technique issues).
3. Once the manuscript is edited and polished, seek legitimate publication venues.
Here's where I say, DO NOT, absolutely DO NOT pay anyone $9,000 to publish your manuscript. That's a scam (aka vanity publishing) and I know too many authors who've gone this route and never earned back even close to what they paid out.
Traditional publishers pay YOU (in the form of an advance) to publish your book, not the other way around. Because traditional publishers pay for books upfront with advances, they're much less willing to take risks and thus more picky about what books they take on. They rely heavily on agents for exposing them to new authors and potential books.That means writers who want to go the traditional route must often locate a literary agent to represent them and sell their manuscript to a publisher.
Nowadays, writers also have the option of self-publishing. Writers going this route may need to invest in a good cover, a couple of quality edits, and formatting, etc. Then writers can upload their books to online stores without paying a dime to the stores. Instead they split the profit with the online stores. Usually the writer gets to keep 70% of the profit on all books sold.
4. After the book is published, do your own marketing.
No, DO NOT wait to get discovered. If you do, you'll likely wait forever. Whether traditionally or self-published, writers can't sit back and wait for readers to come to them. They won't come (at least beyond your mother, sister, and most loyal friends).
Instead, authors in today's publishing industry have the very hard task of drawing readers to their books. New writers have to face the reality that there are millions of books (and I do mean millions) that are competing for a reader's attention. So why would readers choose yours?
That's the challenge of today's marketing. You have to help readers understand why they should pick up your book. Why will they like it? What makes it stand out from others? What makes it unique and special?
I've written lots of posts about ways to market (and other writers have done the same), so I won't go into details in this post. The bottom line is that there's no easy formula for selling books. Marketing and getting discovered continue to be a challenge for both traditionally and self-published authors.
That's my advice for Shannon! What's yours? What have you learned about the publishing industry that you would share with a new writer seeking publication?
I received an email from a blog reader, Anna, asking for help with figuring out the framework of her story. She was struggling with how to handle diary entries (whether to use flashbacks or make them chronological), who to make the protagonist (mother, daughter, or both), which POV's to use (1st person for one and 3rd for another or something different), and a host of other questions.
Essentially I got the feeling from her that her story resembles a big 1000 piece puzzle dumped out on the table. And she doesn't really know how to piece it all together in the most meaningful way possible. Sure there are lots of different ways to go about organizing all the pieces–but what is the right way? Is there even a right way?
As I thought about Anna's struggle, I realized that one of the most helpful tools for organizing any story is the 3 Act Structure which has been used in classic writing and has also been adapted by modern screenwriters. Here's my summary of what the Acts contain:
I. Act 1: Big Set Up
• The character lives in her ordinary world, in the status quo, with limited awareness.
• The character has a call to adventure, the inciting incident, which is a situation that forces the character to see the world in a different way.
• The character has inner debates and reluctance but ultimately commits to the new goal.
II. Act 2: Middle Confrontation
• As the character begins her quest, obstacles arise that impede her progress.
• Further complications and higher stakes prevent the character from reaching her goal.
• Although the character fights back, challenges continue to push her toward a disaster or crisis.
III. Act 3: Resolution
• When the character reaches a climax or the black moment, she must make her final push to change, to defeat the inner and outer antagonists.
• During the "dark night of the soul" the character has her epiphany and inner transformation.
• The aftermath or the wrap-up of loose ends allows the character to lead to a new life with a new status quo.
I'm a firm believer in the 3 Act Story Structure. All of my books follow this. And most writing gurus preach it. There will be some variation in how each Act is structured, how long each one lasts, etc. But overall, most stories and films can be broken down into these elemental parts.
Essentailly, the 3 Acts form the outer boundary or the framework that hold everything else in the story together. Although pantsers and plotters each have different story-building methods, I suggest (especially for newer writers) putting together the framework first, just like putting the outer edge on a puzzle first.
Make a simple outline using the above steps. Such an outline helps us see the bigger scope of our story which then enables us to make smaller decisions about where to place items, what to include or not include, and what we might be missing to keep the plot moving forward.
Recently I've read a couple of books that weren't quite as traditional as what I'm accustomed to reading.
The first book was Code Name Verity, a YA book about two friends during World War II. One of the friends was a double agent captured by the Nazis and the second was a pilot for the RAF. The entire book was comprised of journal entries. The first half of the book was written as journal entries by one of the young woman and the second half by the other. There was a 3 Act Structure for both halves of the book, but interestingly also an overarching 3 Act Structure which tied both perspectives together.
Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay is another book I read recently that was written more uniquely. It was told from the perspective of letters that the heroine wrote to an off-stage benefactor, Mr. Knightly. But again, even though the story was told through letters, the author still had a framework in place following the 3 Act Structure.
Two other books I've read that had non-traditional formats are: Orphan Train by Christina Kline and The Girl Who Came Homeby Hazel Gaynor. Both books alternate between a present story and past happenings. For those who are attempting different ways of piecing stories together, I suggest reading a variety of books like the ones I've mentioned in order to see how other authors handle the interior pieces while still maintaining an overall plot structure.
Whether we write traditional stories or whether we embrace something more unique by using flashbacks, letters, diaries, or any other creative method, an overarching story structure keeps us on track with the most essential elements, but then also helps us figure out how to organize all of those other little details.
What about YOU? Have you considered using the 3 Act Structure? Do you think such structure is helpful, or does it impede your creativity?