Story structure

I’ve been thinking a lot about story construction for months and months. I’ve tried various structures – 3-Act; 8-Part; 12 pillars; multi-layer 10 key scene; snowflake. All of them sort of work, in that they help me keep focussed on the story, what the key, underlying theme is, and help me keep an even pace throughout the story. But is this good for my writing? Is it taking the creativity out of it?

I’m an engineer. I was born into an engineering family, my father was an engineer, both of my older brothers were engineers. We rode cycles we built from parts that we rescued from a tip; we all worked on our own cars, fixing them when they went wrong; we all went into engineering as soon as we left school at sixteen. And, although I moved from mechanical engineering into electronics and industrial computer control, engineering has stayed with me all of my life.

And it influences me, even now, at just over 60 years old. I prefer function to form: that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate form. I love art, I love photography, and, of course, I love writing. But when you have a ‘thing’, an item, that needs to perform a function, it’s that which takes priority with me, and form comes second.

So let’s look at writing. A piece of writing, especially a novel, has both function and form. It needs to function for the reader, give them entertainment or enlightenment. It needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It needs to have proper characters, a plot that makes sense and draws the reader in. Also it needs to have sentences, have proper grammatical construction, and needs words to be spelled (spelt?) properly.

However, a novel isn’t a paint-by-numbers kit. It needs to have form, and art, it needs to communicate ideas, through the authors use of words. It should convey feelings, it should paint a picture for the reader, just by using words. If you can weave theme into it and voice and style, so much the better. Above all, it should be a compelling story, taking the reader on a journey.

I love C.S. Lakin’s book, The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction because it likens the novel structure to that of a house – having four main corner pillars, with another eight pillars to keep up the roof. There are lots more building / writing analogies, but the whole idea is one I can get behind.

So, for me, there needs to be a strong, logical structure (the FUNCTION) underpinning the complete story, onto which your artistic creative techniques can weave the FORM, the characters, the plot, and the themes.

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