Monday 27th April 2020
One of my current fascinations is story structure. I’m finding that as I do some spreadsheet work in my day job I have Youtube videos on in the background talking about all manners of storycraft.
I’ve always been interested in the writing process. It’s often been my favourite procrastination exercises. I’m not writing because I’m studying writing. But I’ve learnt a lot from it, and currently studying a bunch of screenwriting Youtube videos is making me look at story in a slightly different way
I think some people get a little confused when it comes to storycraft. There’s often a feeling that it’s formulaic and as a result people either reject the idea of rules in writing or follow them to the letter. The former can lead to a mess, and the latter can result in something very generic.
The deeper I’ve delved into story structure the more I’ve come to understand that there are rules for writing. The best stories in the world have structure and it’s amazing how they follow storycraft when you start to pull them apart. Now, I’ll give you that this can be akin to hindsight – this story worked brilliantly and uses these rules, therefore, these are the rules – but there’s a symmetry to really good stories. And where they break the ‘rules’ – it’s done deliberately to enforce a point or to strengthen other areas of the story.
For me – and I think my position has swayed a bit over the years – it’s about being conscious of the ‘rules’ you break and understanding why. No rule is sacred, and there are a million different story structures. Whether you do story circle, or the hero’s journey, or any other method there are often good reasons for breaking with convention.
BUT: Story structures can be useful for identifying areas where you story might fall down. It’s fine if you decide to not have your character grow from their story arc, but as long as that’s a conscious decision,
I’m now at the point where I might take an idea I have and then overlay some story structure atop it to see how it works. There will inevitably be bits that don’t fit. My task as a writer is then to look at those parts and decide for myself whether there’s a good reason for that. Did I mean to do that? Would it be better if I conform?
I’m currently playing with the story circle. My plan is to apply it to Book 2 at an act level and see what breaks. The book might work completely, or as I suspect, it’ll break in specific areas of the story. If my hunch is right – and I’m totally willing to be wrong here – it’ll break in areas that my gut is telling me need work.
I’ll then take those parts and ask myself what the story circle suggests should happen here? Could I make a change that matches the structure, and if I did does the story now work? I’m agnostic about this. It’s not about trying to make it work, it’s about seeing whether these tools can help me construct a better story.
There’s always a chance the structure doesn’t work at all, in which case… maybe that’s not the structure for this story.
If there’s any switch in my head over the last couple of years, it’s seeing story structure less as planning and more as QA. I suspect this opinion could continue to evolve in the future but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have more tools in your writers toolbox.
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