Next week we’ll be launching the deconstruction of “Bait and Switch.”
Click on the links in the middle column to grab a copy on the cheap and join us for this peek into the hidden architecture of a story.
To tide us over for the weekend, here’s an interesting guest post by Lynn Dean.
Architecture or Art?
a guest post by Lynn Dean
(Click HERE to read a short, beautifully-written slice of narrative that sets the stage for this article. Or not… feel free to dive right in if you prefer.)
What, you may ask, has a medieval cathedral to do with story structure? I majored in architecture and missed the connection until I read Story Engineering, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks (if you’ll forgive the pun).
While I would never dream of building so much as a tree house without at least scribbling a sketch on a napkin, when it came to writing I was a proud “pantser”–writing mostly by intuition. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it’s an invitation for disaster as scenes and subplots collapse.
Beauvais (and several other Gothic cathedrals that collapsed during construction) may not have been erected by structural engineers, but the builders were no amateurs. Master masons learned the traditions of building–what worked and what wouldn’t–through years of apprenticeship. They shared ideas with others in their guild. Their training was not so different from the way many of us learned to write. And it worked, if only because failure was a threat to survival. The mason who built the arch was the same man who stood beneath it to pull out the scaffolding.
As do we as architects of our stories, though he risked a bit more than a publisher’s rejection letter.
Because these medieval builders did not understand the principles of physics that explain stress vectors and such like (calculus had not yet been invented), their traditional forms were literally set in stone. In a sense, the lack of formulas made their buildings somewhat formulaic as each craftsman tried to achieve something unique and inspiring–soaring, light-filled art–without varying too much from the proven patterns. Lack of understanding causes timidity.
I had fallen into a similar error–thinking that a planned plot would make my writing mechanical, less artistic. But in writing, as in architecture, it is possible to marry formulas and art to the great benefit of both.
In fact, just as many cathedrals survived notwithstanding their builders’ naivety regarding the principles of physics, a solid story stands because the writer has intuitively hit upon the principles of plotting that work. When I applied Larry’s “structural forensics” to my manuscript, I was pleased to find plot points that support the structure of my story exactly where they should be. And within that structural web, there was art!
Physics indeed… our stories depend on them just as much as the product of the architect’s trade.
Also, check out the latest entry on the Peer Review Page, an excerpt from a YA Novel by B.J. Culver. Your feedback on this project would be most appreciated.