Why are you doing it? I was asked (topic: the presentation next week). Why, indeed.
The shortest and simplest reason is because I wasted so much time and effort trying to learn something everyone seemed to think every writer knows without thinking about it – structure. After all, there’s the 3 acts, the Aristotle’s incline, the beat sheet, the story board, the chain of events, the snowflake method. What I’ve learned in the last year is that all these methodologies can be exceptionally vague in the way they try to spread the word (or is it that it’s too many things to different people?) about structure but can be vague and don’t make it quite as clear as it needs to be – and because structure is 80% of the work in the first stage of ‘a good story well-told’ I consider it absolutely necessary to share what I’ve learned. And I learned it by doing it, by doing it again and again and again until I understood, quite clearly, what it meant. And how to adapt it to how I work best. If I had known about it before …
It, in this case, is structure. Not that it ever seems to be called story structure. Other things, like Outline, Incline, Snowflake, Journey, Chain of Events, Beat Sheet, Story-board, and the big one – the three Act paradigm.
But it’s both more and less than all of the above – which, by the way, are methodologies, not an end in themselves. They are a beginning, a preparation for story, not a plan.
Worse, when you read up on these methods, the words become more and more vague and less elemental (except recently, and only few). And structure is more, much more, than a few vague words that state the story must move through these stages and blah, blah, blah.
It is more than that. Structure is the defined base-plate that steps a story through what comes first and why; what comes next and why; where the big things are waiting and why; how to use these milestones/points/turns to leverage a story into a gripping and powerful tale that takes a reader through the flow/movement of scenes, into the skin of the main character and how he deals with the problems and conflicts – to the end.
That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s the basic 101 stage that should be taught in all classes for creative writing. And I’m going to spread it thick and fast and far and wide. Why? Because when I get too old to write my own stories, I want to read good stories. I want new writers to understand the simple things easily so they can go on to create mind-bending concepts and premises for their stories. I want it all.
There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft. And structure is as basic as it gets, the ABC of the language of story-telling.
I think now I know enough to help others learn it. This is my opportunity to pass on what it’s taken me so long to learn (those 10,000 hours of apprenticeship).
Anyway, short story long (that’s me all over), this is my paying it forward.
And my hope is that every person who attends the presentation next week will take the opportunity to do the practical tasks associated with learning this, and then pass it on to anyone else they meet who needs to know about it.
I want to give them to opportunity to pay it forward.