Thursday 18th June 2020
I spent a bit of time yesterday evening doing more study on story structure. Having seen the benefit of the work I did back in April, it feels more an investment rather than a procrastination exercise.
It’s strange. When you first start to write, you spend a lot of time studying the craft. And then as you progress, you start to see those rules as constricting and become a bit more cynical about writing advice. It does sometimes feel that concepts are made so generic that they fit any situation.
I’ve seen many established writer tell those looking to learn the craft that there’s no magic formula. I’ve always found those sorts of comments a bit insulting to most unpublished writers. They’re almost always accompanied by some form of mockery.
I’ve always thought they missed the point. Craft shouldn’t be a religion, it’s a toolbox. I’ve never felt being conscious of the fact that you are subverting a known structure to be a bad thing. I might feel like that advice is too basic for me; that I’ve somehow transcended it. But I’ve never thought that those who look at craft are looking for a formula. Only skills.
And as I’ve progressed, I’ve become more acutely aware of structure. I’ve learnt why a certain scene doesn’t work or propel the story forward, how structure and craft doesn’t have to be something rigid but a tool you employ when you need to.
Writing is all about manipulating your reader. You want them to turn the page, to feel certain emotions, to come to a certain conclusion so you can whip the carpet out from under them. As I’ve furthered my craft, I feel like a lot of what I’m learning isn’t so much a structure on how to get a character from A to B but on how to illicit a certain emotion from your reader.
The stuff I’m looking at now is very firmly in the area of screenwriting which has more constraints than a novel. Yet, I don’t feel it bad to learn these constraints. I don’t have to employ them. Most importantly I can be conscious when I don’t.
I’d love to get away from 3 act structures at some point. Everything I studied today was firmly fixed in the 3 act structure. Understanding that better doesn’t stop me looking at 4 or 5 act structures at a later date, and indeed may make it easier to learn as I’ll have something to compare against.
I’ve definitely seen the benefit of the study I’ve done during lockdown. My outlines and rewrites now seem more connected to theme and driving momentum. I feel the plots and outlines I’m producing now to be a massive step up from where I was even 3 months ago.
I still have a long list of areas where I want to improve as a writer, but to do that I need to understand what it is that I do and how I could possibly do that more effectively.
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