Today I'm spending my afternoon in lovely Olathe, Kansas for the One Year Adventure Novel conference. I'm holding mentoring appointments with teen writers, and I'm a teensy bit nervous because I've never done anything like that before. I'll be there again tomorrow as well, which means I probably won't be quite as chatty in the comments section this week.
When I was writing my first novels, I gave zero thought to story structure. I read all the time, and I'd always been good at writing. It had never crossed my mind that a novel had a structure. I honestly would have thought it beneath me to pick up a book on story structure. Writing was an art form - I didn't need to read some stuffy, close-minded rules about story structure. Wasn't it more of an instinct thing, really? For a true writer, anyway?
But it would have served me well as a young writer to pick up a book like Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell or Story by Robert McKee. I could have saved myself a lot of time and frustration, a lot of hair-pulling, and "Why isn't this story working?!"
So as we talk about story structure on here, don't think of these as rules. Think of them, rather, as principles. I love this quote from Robert McKee:
A rule says, "You must do it this way." A principle says, "This works and has through all remembered time." The difference is crucial. Your work needn't be modeled after the "well-made play"; rather it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.
If story structure is new to you, I don't want you to feel anxiety over following everything perfectly. But I've found that studying story structure has helped me not only craft deeper, stronger stories, it's also helped me:
- Figure out what story ideas are good and which ones need more work before I've written half a first draft.
- Write more than just the beginning.
- Determine where my main character is headed and how I can help her get there.
Are any of those things that you struggle with?