Using Structure

I’ve got a library book festival this weekend, and in addition to being on a panel, I’m doing a workshop on story structure. I spent much of yesterday working on my workshop, and doing that made me realize where I’m going wrong in the book I’m working on. It’s not a massive course correction, just some subtle things, but I’m glad I caught it now rather than after a draft when those little things had become major.

Some people seem to think of structure as a restriction or a constraint. I find it a useful tool. In a novel, you don’t really have to force it into a particular structure. I find that looking for the various stages is a good way to find the story and to stay on track instead of wandering all over the place. Just filling in the very basic elements of structure is a good way to test an idea. I think, to some extent, the difference between an idea and a story is putting some kind of structure to it — what does the hero want, what’s stopping him from getting it, what will he have to do to get it, what big decisions will he have to make along the way?

This is why I like doing workshops, even when I’m busy. I learn as much from preparing as any of the attendees do. It forces me to take a step back and evaluate what I’m doing instead of falling into bad habits or going on autopilot.

If you’re in the North Texas area and want to know more, I’ll be doing this workshop at the Mid-Cities Teen Book Festival on Oct. 20. Come see how story structure can work for you.


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