Story Structure vs. Story Architecture: “Dude… what’s the diff?”

 I’ve been hearing that question a lot lately.  Story structure is old news, and frankly it rubs some writers the wrong way.  It shouldn’t – that’s like saying gravity and taxes rub you the wrong way.

Deny them all you want… they’re always there, inescapable, sucking you in.

Story architecture, on the other hand, isn’t always there.  While intuitively interpretable, this is a term I’ve coined to describe the collective whole that exceeds the sum of the storytelling parts.  Or what I call The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling.

I like to think of this as the new conventional wisdom of storytelling.  I didn’t make up these truths, I’ve just made up the model and the name for a fresh new way of packaging and looking at them, and in a manner many tell me is the first clear path they’ve come across.

So is there a difference between story structure and story architecture?

Oh yeah.  You bet your thesaurus there is.

If You Build It They Will Read

The critical context of understanding the difference is to accept that story structure is a sub-set of story architecture.  In order to have solid story architecture you must first create an underlying structure… plus a bunch of other stuff.

Otherwise it’s like trying to put clothes on a jellyfish.  Trying to lay down a coat of paint on a pile of loose rocks.  Trying to stuff an aroma into a beautiful urn.  Or my favorite — attempting to stuff the toothpaste back into the tube.

No solid structure, no story.  No structure, no possibility of ensuing story architecture.

Let’s turn to the more common meaning of these two terms, from the building and construction trade.  Structure is the foundation, girders, support beams and floorplan that allows a building to stand upright.  To support weight.

Structure can be, and often is, bland and without art, completely void of heart and soul.  Like an empty warehouse or your local DMV office .  Nobody applies the term architecture to those places.

Architecture describes, at least in this metaphoric context, the artful aesthetic of a building.  It is structure enhanced by a host of beautiful elements and adornments, from arching doorways sculpted with scrolled designs and carvings to sweeping stairways with metallic accents and surfaces laced with designs and images and textures, all of it adorned with alluring lighting and well-placed works of art, embraced with landscaping and spiced with color.

All houses are structures.  But only a few are architecturally-designed houses.  And those are the ones that end up on the covers of magazines.

Which is precisely where you want your story to end up.  In other words… published.  Only architecturally-designed stories get published.

The aesthetic sum of these parts is art itself.  All of it beginning with a structure that was nothing more than a floorplan built over a solid foundation.

The Art and Craft of Story Architecture

Story structure is the sequence of your scenes that result in a story well told.

Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine and a writing voice brings it all to life with personality and energy.

Structure is craft.  It can be studied, learned, practiced and implemented.  It is not talent-dependent (talent being a relative and elusive term), it is effort-dependent and knowledge-dependent.

Architecture is art.  It, too, can be studied, learned, emulated and implemented.  It is talent-dependent, with the acknowledgement that talent itself can be cultivated and evolved through learning and practice. 

Not every writer is born to be John Updike.  But every writer can bring architecture to their story, provided they open themselves to it.  Provided they don’t ascribe to the there-are-no-rules school of writing and immerse themselves in the proven truths that successful writers validate on every shelf in every bookstore you’ve ever been in.

Story architecture, in this sense, is what separates a story from the crowd.  It is the differentiator between non-published and published writing.

Gravity sucks.  Always has, always will.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Especially when you think of it this way: gravity is what empowers us to dance.

Storyfix brings you two posts today.  If you’ve just arrived, there’s a slightly more personalized post just below this one.


Filed under Story Structure Series

10 Responses to Story Structure vs. Story Architecture: “Dude… what’s the diff?”

  1. Shirls

    Oh I see I already voted three weeks ago. Larry when is your book SIX CORE COMPETENCIES coming out? Can’t wait to get my hands on it!

  2. sarah

    Love this: Especially when you think of it this way: gravity is what empowers us to dance.
    And its so true! Thanks for the inspiring posts. Its very refreshing to hear someone waxing eloquent on the need for boundaries, as opposed to the wild free-for-al I see too often.

  3. Awesome article Larry! I am making so much progress with my story because of your posts about story structure and this one on architecture is magnificent!

    I also voted at Michael’s site for StoryFix.


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  7. I’m learning so much be reading your daily “lessons.” They help me hone my own work as I’m going through a re-write. Thanks.

  8. Mary E. Ulrich

    I think the biggest ah-ha came when you said “Structure” was craft and “Architecture” was art. That helps.

    I’ve been thinking about architecture and yesterday someone was explaining the difference between a “website” and a “blog.” Not sure if this is too crazy but the picture I imagined was that the “website” was the whole property (house, garden, garage…) and the “blog” was only one room, the living room, workshop, garden, kitchen…. Inbound marketing is where people just stop by and Outbound marketing is where you send out party invitations. Crazy? probably.

  9. When I learned about ‘Story Architecture’ from Larry Brooks, I was reminded of Chess.
    In chess, you can either play ‘unorthodox’ or ‘bookline’. But you have to learn both to become a ‘master’. Why? There comes a point in actual game that your opponent might make a move that’s not bookline (if he makes this move before the ‘middle’ game, most probably it’s dumb or what is called ‘blunder’ in chess).
    You are now forced to be creative and play unorthodox too. You’re rival might have made a blunder or a ‘brilliancy’ move.
    This happens in writing too. Being unorthodox or creative isn’t enough.
    You have to have ‘architecture’ or structure and be bookish to be a master.

  10. Robert

    agree with Mary E that the diff was stated nicely: craft and art.