Story Structure and the Craft of Writing

Story Structure in Scarab
Story Structure in Scarab

This is primarily a website that discusses how story structure underpins the art and craft of storytelling.

Its aim is to offer advice on how to get narrative ingredients, such as the various types of must-have-scenes, to flow together in order to form a tale; on why some stories work and some don’t – in short, it is about how an understanding of structure helps us write better stories.

This process is essentially a left-brain activity. Here, I use the terms left and right brain in the metaphorical sense to suggest analytical vs. creative thinking, rather than as a precise anatomical truth.

In terms of story creation, we associate the left side of the brain, in part, with collating and polling story material: of assembling and not, strictly speaking, of spontaneously conceiving. Conception occurs deep within the right hemisphere – the passionate and unfettered area of creativity.

Story Structure and Theoretical vs. Practical Knowledge

When I originally got the idea for my first novel Scarab, it was rooted in a series of questions: What if a quantum computer, exhibiting human-like consciousness, is used by unscrupulous people to change the laws of physics by utilising quantum mechanics’s “observer effect”, and in doing so, runs foul of a powerful threshold guardian?

What if the hero is a reluctant, middle-aged recovering alcoholic in love with a film student who is looking for a good story to put herself on the map? And what if their endeavours bring them into conflict with these same unscrupulous people who will stop at nothing to fulfill their power-hungry ambitions?

These thoughts, which were to form the basis of my novel, had less to do with story structure and more to do with right-brain musings. I let my imagination wander around, gave my characters desires, beliefs, and goals, placed them in interesting environments, gave them a general direction, and let them write their own story while I tried my best to keep up with them.

But if stories spring from the imagination, where does all our hard-won knowledge of story structure come in? Part of the answer is: after the first draft.

This is when one reviews the story in earnest and checks it against structural requirements: does it contain the must-have scenes? Are the structural components such as turning points, midpoint, and pinches, in the right place? If not, would reshuffling them benefit the story?

Integration

There is, however, a longer term benefit associated with the prolonged study of story structure: The more we think and learn about the subject, the more we understand it, the more spontaneous the process of writing becomes. Corrections and adjustments that had to wait for revision to be applied, begin to appear in the first draft. Theoretical knowledge becomes practical knowledge, pointing to an increased integration of two largely different processes born in different hemispheres of the brain. It is this integration, perhaps more than any other process, that marks our growing maturity as storytellers.

Summary

An understanding of story structure helps the writer strengthen the first draft of a story. As the writer’s understanding of structure deepens, so does his ability simultaneously to apply analytical processes in tandem with creative ones – the mark of a maturing skill.

Published by

Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

One thought on “Story Structure and the Craft of Writing”

  1. One aspect of the writing process which is mostly the left side of the brain ( if I understand the term correctly) is the research process. Your sitting there in front of your laptop with a blank page on the screen. Before you choose your story perspective you must first must have something to work with. Stephen king once said that writers write about what they know – he chooses to wright what he believes to be true. So if you are writing a screenplay/novel about a plot surrounding the assassination of John F Kennedy it helps to read about every conspiracy theory ever written about the subject. Having done your research you will have drawn the conclusion that Kennedy was a womanizer and you might focus on the idea that his assassination was orchestrated by Jackie O who wanted revenge for John having been a dis loyal husband. Because the premise is based on a concrete fact it is already believable even if it is completely fictional – that is the beauty of fiction. Author Jeffry Archer is the master of this process – he understands that knowing everything there is to know about a subject will make a reader engage and invested in a story : Because of the facts he presents you believe that Josef Stalin did not die of a heart attack even when history tells you otherwise. A work of fiction is not a portrait nor a biography.

    In short : If you are going to choose a subject regardless of premise or genre first choose what you want your reader to believe by doing lots and lots of research.

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