Structure in the Age of So Much Literature


(I imagine Yes is the only living thing ~ EE Cummings)

I recently read a Twitter post from a pro-tip wielding writer (by the name of Delilah S. Dawson), and did a little bit of research on what she referred to (that bit o’ info is a blog I’m subscribed to, filled with extremely helpful information. I recommend you subscribe to him as well. WARNING: offensive language used on that site) concerning “Story Structure.” That link is far more succinct than anything I could say  about it, so I won’t say a whole lot more about it beyond anecdotal evidence.

I read Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code back when it first came out; everyone I knew were raving about how much of a page-turner it was, how lush the backstory was, and how intriguing the plot was. And I’ll give it to him; Mr. Brown knows how to construct a chapter, and he knows how to construct a story arc. The end of every single chapter is a “cliffhanger” in some way, while he moves through a near flawless rendition of the three act system: Set up, Conflict, Resolution.

He was so good at the construction of his book that for me, his story suffered. Characters touted as “smart” and “pre-eminent” seemed surprised by every little revelation. Revelations I, as the reader, figured out before the character (possibly also according to Mr. Brown’s plan). But his story suffered.

I recently read Joyce’s Ulysses. Guess what his story structure was? Eighteen acts. An act per chapter. A writing style per chapter. Identifying colors, stories from Homer’s Odyssey, etc. Talk about structure.

My love of structure is a recent development. I am far more likely to read a novel I’ve written and, post-script, figure out where it falls in the structure department. Three act? Five act? Seven act? Is it an “idea story”? Is it a character-driven story? Is it a story about answering a question? Can I do anything to improve on this structure without damaging the story?

I also enjoyed the ending of that “research” link: you don’t need a set structure to make a book work. You just need to understand the point of structure, and understand the structure of YOUR story.

Hope you’re having a great National Wine Drinking Day. I for one am not drinking a drop.



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