Story Structure As a Critical Foundation of Your Novel – A Video Mini-Workshop

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.


Filed under Storyfix Virtual Classroom

4 Responses to Story Structure As a Critical Foundation of Your Novel – A Video Mini-Workshop

  1. You. Are. Awesome. I can’t wait for these classes to start!!!

  2. Great content as always, Larry. I find that any mini-reviews I can do with regard to story structure, engineering, physics, et al, reinforces what I’ve learned and keeps it in the forefront of my thinking when I write. Thanks.

  3. Kerry Boytzun

    The video showing your thought process via the conversation you had with the client assists in revealing how the story structure principles are of value to the writer–and not optional. Writers must see these videos…

    Page 210 of a 400 page book where the hero is finally told “YOU have to come back to work–retirement is over.” (just a bit of a delay).

    What a writer should imagine is to present a story as if you are presenting something of interest–to a friend in answer to “how was your day?” (question really means did anything INTERESTING happen today?)

    Do you reply to your friend that you got out of bed, but put on your slippers, then looked for your robe, then let the cat out, then, blah blah blah. Then you got to work, blah blah blah.

    At what point does your friend say “FAST FORWARD TO THE PART I CARE ABOUT?”

    Historical analysis of the hero (210 pages worth) doesn’t matter UNLESS he’s dead and a detective is trying to sort out who killed the guy.

    Start the story with enough setup so that we feel what making this hero come back to work out of retirement DOES to his present life? The guy was retired. Did he miss work, hate work, did he need the money?

    Plot twist is when he gets to the job site (France right?…in the story), this “back to work” job would be much more interesting if the current players were involved in the hero’s past, especially if the hero had done something wrong or embarrassing. (maybe that’s why he was really brought out of retirement–to fix his mess from the past?).

    It’s little things like the last idea that make the difference between something interesting and something vanilla.

    The concept of “super soldier vs. terrorist” is so vanilla, it needs work. And–the lines should be blurred as to the morals. In real life we have the so called good guys sitting back in their chairs as they remotely murder–oops, remove–civilians that are next to the alleged terrorists using flying drones. In real life, the alleged terrorists have been funded by the so-called good guys to get rid of the current rulers because the current rulers weren’t playing nice with corporate business.

    This last paragraph has gotten to be so common, that if you don’t have it in your story–your story is naive.

    The HBO TV Show WestWorld is a masterpiece (so far) of how to write a story, wheras Ray Donavan’s last season was just painful to watch the same old, tired, unbelievable antics.

    There’s a King Kong prequel in the works, and Kong isn’t even the main attraction. WTF?

  4. MikeR

    Personally, I think that this would-be writer (fatally …) erred when he confused BACK-story with STORY!

    After all, the only(!) reason why I need to know … or(!) possibly need to care … that “you retired twenty years ago,” is at each moment when I, the Gentle Reader, need to reconcile that your present actions (as I have just observed them) still make sense, with regards to what I [now] understand your character to be.

    … all of this, after all, being “BACK(!)-story,” therefore [your own, i.e. the author’s] “justification.”

    … … instead of “STORY(!!),” which is (hint, hint …) why I paid a couple BUCKS for your book!