Dear Power Writers,
Structure is to story as steel beams are to a skyscraper. Without them, the building would collapse. Likewise, without a solid undergirding (or structure) to your story, it too will collapse.
When your story first comes to you, it usually comes in the form of an image in your mind. A character emerges. The character is doing something, or something is happening to your character. At this point, there are many directions your story could take, depending on where your imagination leads you.
As you brainstorm and get to know your character, you will discover many events in his or her life. Obviously, you cannot write about all of those events. You must choose only the events that will best move your story forward. Structure is the selection of those events.
To quote Robert McGee, structure is “a selection of events from the characters’ life that is composed into a strategic sequence to arouse specific emotions and to express a specific view of life.”
Notice the phrases “to arouse specific emotions” and “to express a specific view of life”. When structuring your story, keep those two phrases in mind. Ask yourself, “What specific emotions do I want to arouse in my reader?” What view of life do I wish to express in and through my story?”
For the best stories, choose only those events that create a significant value change in your character’s life. In other words, choose events that cause your character to see life in a different way, to reconsider the values she has held up to this point, to re-evaluate the direction she has been taking. This will result in character growth, a key point of a good story.
When we think of structure, we often think of plot. Structure and plot are not the same. Plot flows out of structure. As McGee points out, “plot is the writer’s choice of events and their design in time.” So your plot will result from your choice of those events in your character’s life and the placement of those events in a meaningful time sequence.
Next time we will discuss structure as it relates specifically to character.