In the March/April 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, best-selling novelist Steven James offers outstanding advice on story structure in his article entitled “Go Organic”. Contrary to the frequent dictum we fiction writers hear about outlining our stories, James takes issue with this teaching and offers what he describes as an “organic” way of developing a story.
Just as a plant (and a person) grows from the inside out, so, contends James, should a story. He calls the process “uncovering” (p. 37) a story rather than outlining it. James writes: “In storytelling, what will happen informs what is happening, and what is happening informs what did” (p. 38).
So how do we write a story organically, from the inside out? James advises beginning with this question: “What is truly at the heart of your story?” (p. 37). The heart is the organic center of the story. It is the seed, the starting point from which the story will grow. The heart of the story is where the writer needs to focus his attention. As the writer answers the question–What is truly at the heart of your story?–she will be “delving deeper and deeper into the essence of what storytelling is all about” (p. 37).
What is at the heart of your story? Take time to find out. Then, starting at the heart, build your story from the inside out, here a little, there a little, until you have created the whole from the sum of its parts. As you follow James’s suggestions, you will observe the emergence of a story that is bigger than life.
To learn more about Steven James, visit his website at http://www.stevenjames.net.
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