I was working on the second of the five video training workshops that will comprise the launch of my new Story Virtual Classroom venue (this one entitled “Ten Surefire Ways to Screw Up Your Novel“), and after recording and integrating this I decided to publish it here as a sort of sneak peek at the series.
Of course, the best sneak peaks — where training is concerned — are those that deliver value as a stand-alone presentation, which I believe this does.
Story structure continues to confuse, elude and challenge (read: frighten) many writers. They fear they are hearing a suggestion of formula, when in fact they are simply missing the true nature of story structure itself… as an underlying contextual journey for the narrative, drawing upon hundreds years of human interaction with storytelling.
By way of analogy — let’s use a football game for this one — there are two things always going on: a game plan, unfolding on a field in context to the boundaries and limitations of the rules of game, including the lines on the field. The former is strategy – the particular pace, style, stealth and surprise of the offense and the defensive sets. The later is non-negotiable – all of it a strategy that plays out in context to what those rules call for. Play outside of those foundational lines, and you are penalized. Do it too much and you lose the game.
Substitute rules for writing principles in this analogy, and you have the true nature of story structure.
It’s not formula. Write your story any way you please. Just make sure it unfolds within the contextual playing field that the marketplace expects… which is story structure in modern commercial fiction.
The flow of a story – something I describe in four parts, though it can be broken down even further – is that playing field. But the actual way you write your story, the creative strategy of your narrative, is an infinitely broad and unrestricted series of choices you get to make. The lines on the field keep you true to your intentions and allow you to avoid trouble. Step over them… ignore them… tell yourself you don’t believe in them… and you may just lose the game.
If you interprete a call for setup, for conflict-driven dramatic arc, for an optimized reader experience, for pacing that works… if all that smacks of formula to you, then I submit you are already in trouble. Because a story without any single one of those things is doomed. Structure, like lanes on a freeway, are simply a means of keeping you moving – and alive – on the story path.
Here’s a clip from “Ten Surefire Ways to Screw Up Your Novel,” which includes a couple of real-life examples that help frame this discussion. If you’d like more of this type of training, click HERE to sign up for the mailing list for this new program (rolling out in the next few weeks), which includes a 25% discount on all workshops as long as you remain subscribed… and a FREE download ($59.95 retail value) of the rollout video, “Essential Craft for the Emerging Novelist.”
Enjoy. I hope you find value in this.