Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Story Structure

The rules of this new revamped QoD dictate I must produce three posts per week. Now, that may suit your tireless, endless, unstoppable breed of blogger (naming no names—cough Hart Johnson cough) but this idle thumb-twiddler finds such a regime oppressive.

Regardless, hi. Today I want to talk about a story I recently wrote and interesting structures. I like structure. I like structured days, structured months, structured sex and structured structures. In stories, structures are delicious. They help generate those other less important things—things like character (boo) or plot (booboo) or setting (boobooboo).

You’re asking: how can structure help character? If you opt for a simple three-act set-up, you’ll need your character to do certain things: to change, grow or go beyond himself. (Yes, I hate these things too, but I paid £4000 to learn they are sometimes important. So booboo). Your character will adapt in tandem with the structure, pulled along by the structure into his actions and consequences. And plot, well—plot thrives on structure! Otherwise, plot would be running around all over the shop, not knowing where to end or begin! I admit, structure doesn’t affect setting a GREAT deal. But if your structure permits long digressions, the scenery might come into it somewhere. Unlike Chekhov, who used scenery to determine almost everything else. Dear silly Anton!

But back to me. The story I wrote, ‘On/Off,’ is a structural experiment. We begin with our generative device—form—the form in this case being a reader flipping through TV channels, in the story ‘channels’ of narrative. Each narrative strand presents a murder (it’s a genre piece, so it seems) of different sorts, presenting the elements of a basic murdered husband and wife case in variations across five distinct narratives (distinct in style/tone). The idea was to create five contradictory outcomes, weaving various hypotheses around the murdered and the murderer, and create a story that functioned on its own terms.

This is why structure matters (well, form as well—in fact form is better than structure, but let’s not upset the structure of this post). It’s essential for the writer who feels himself at sea in conventions, and yes, it’s important to master conventions before they’re muddled with, but it doesn’t mean he can’t play around with them if it helps get the story out. So there. That’s all for tonight. I’m off to write a jeremiad on the toilet seat.


  1. Yes, structure is essential. I'm reading the story now, so this was helpful. Three posts a week? Can you really pull a Hart Johnson off? I'd feel the pressure. I've been dutifully ignoring my blog for days (read weeks) now.

  2. It's only three posts. That's only a 40% Hart. Hurray for reading my story! I expect only praise.