Story structure is incredibly important to your writing. It’s the skeleton on which you hang your entire tale. No matter how lovely your prose, if you aren’t telling a solid tale underneath, most readers will be unhappy with it. They might not be able to tell you why, but poorly plotted stories don’t satisfy.
If you’re trying to go the agent/trade publisher route, you should know that both agents and publishers are extremely articulate about elements of story structure. If your story has faulty bones, they’ll quit reading and be able to tell you why. But even if you’re self-publishing, the result will be the same—readers won’t be picking up your book.
If you’re a discovery writer (aka pantser), one who finds out the story as you write it, that doesn’t make internalizing story structure any less important. Discovery writers don’t outline in advance, but they need to rely on their instincts as they write. If you’re counting on your subconscious grasp of story, you need to make certain you have a good one.
I’ve written novels as a pure discovery writer in the past, although now I write the synopsis in advance and submit that for critique first. I make sure my two-page synopsis has the proper elements in the right order before I begin writing. It helps me work out possible pitfalls in my main story line. That puts me somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Some writers work from incredibly detailed outlines. Basically, they take every point on their outline, expand it into a paragraph or two, and that’s their story. It’s easy to see how this sort of writer would benefit from a solid knowledge of story structure. They make sure their plot benchmarks line up with the ones in their preferred structure, and voila! They have a well-plotted story. This is what George Lucas did when he wrote Star Wars.
But no matter where you fall on the spectrum of how much pre-writing you do, a thorough understanding of structure is essential to writing an enjoyable story. I’ll be writing a series of blogs to cover this, and I’ll offer some options on how to give your story strong enough bones to do justice to your prose.
Next: The Hook