Every story, short or long, has certain similarities. They all have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes, that’s where the similarities end.
A short story has a very different structure to a novel. There’s so much to fit into a short story that the structure has to be precise and the writing very tight, otherwise you risk presenting something that seems to ramble all over the place and never seems satisfying. The invitation for the reader can be light and happy, or it can be tense and immediate, but no one stays for long.
A novel does all those things, but a novel delves deeper. It has a deeper, more complex plot; deeper, more involved description; deeper, more fully rounded characters. It can be punchy, but it can also invite the reader in to stay a while. Sometimes, readers stay a long while… that’s were series come from.
I haven’t been writing much lately, and don’t anticipate being able to write anything worthwhile for a while yet. Stepping away from writing is a necessity. There are other things in my life that I have to put my time into right now, but I can’t let the writing go. It’s an integral part of who I am.
That’s why I’m looking at structure. I can skip through that in five minute slots that don’t tear me away from what I need to be doing right now, and I can still feel connected to who I am.
This week I’ve been thinking about structure. Structure is one of my weaknesses. I have to work hard at making sure my stories have all the elements they need to give them body and cohesion. I’ve been looking at three types of structure.
One of the structures I’ve been looking at is a linear one. It’s an eight step process published by Stephen May and Nigel Watts in their book Write a Novel and Get It Published. It goes something like this:
I’ve used it before and, while it works to an extent, I found it limiting. I imagine it would be very useful for people who don’t understand how stories work, that there is a need for building tension and critical choices to be made at various points to maintain reader interest. I imagine a lot of literary authors shun the Three-Act Structure because most literary stories I’ve read don’t have the leaps between choices and consequences that a lot of story structures recommend.
The third structure type I’ve been reading about is The Hero’s Journey. Its stages are:
I’ve used this story structure very successfully, most recently with my fantasy novel Warrior Pledge. I had originally written the story using the Three-Act Structure, but it was flat and predictable. When I overlaid the Hero’s Journey over top of what I’d written I was able to identify some serious gaps in the narrative, and also some things that were out of order. Once I’d written/rewritten those sections, the story was much more nail-bitingly tense, the characters were more compelling and the narrative was much stronger. I didn’t use the diagram for the hero’s inner journey, but my characters naturally fell into that development.
The Hero’s Journey fits seamlessly with fantasy stories, but it can also be applied to contemporary tales. It’s all to do with your interpretation of each section.
Hero's Journey: http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero%27s_journey.htm
Three Act Structure: http://jordanmccollum.com/2009/09/story-acts/
E E Montgomery
About writing, life, and random thoughts.
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