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Why Story Structure Is So Important

“First get it written, then get it right.” - Unknown

The fundamental difference between successful writers and unsuccessful writers is persistence.

Getting your story structure right is essential in today’s world. You’re competing with Netflix and HBO.

Novelists have had to contend with movies as a source of entertainment for a while now. Charles Dickens and Jane Austen didn’t have to compete with Stranger Things. But, a well-paced novel with great visuals, characters, and an airtight structure can step onto any battlefield with any major film, and win.

Whether you’re a pantser or planner, plotting will happen.

It just depends on when it will happen. In the beginning, like a plotter, or at the end, like a pantser, and it can determine how long it will take you to write.

Being a pantser, or planner, doesn’t determine if you’ll sell a lot of books, but being able to make your book look like you planned it is what you’ll need to keep them turning the page.

There isn’t a single, magical way to write a story, but countless ways. Having a plan, like a list of ingredients that will need to go into each chapter, will help you write your story well.

However, you sort your ingredients isn’t what matters, but the final product is. So if you want to fly by the seat of your pants, go for it. If you want to knuckle down and get all the nitty-gritty details out before you start, go for it.

There’s no right way, here.

Here are some questions to consider if you should plan or pants it.

Will planning stifle your creative juices?

Some writers fear that planning will inhibit their creativity. Like letting your characters take over and seeing what happens. Some authors find this crucial. To figure out where the story is going as they write it.

Planners feel differently, though. Their plans are a cornerstone of their creativity. Planners simply divide the writing process into two equally fun stages. Story architecture and the actual writing. Both are fun.

How fast do you write?

Some authors write many drafts to get the plot right, which, as you can imagine, can slow you down. But if that works for you, by all means, do it.

By working out the plot and structure beforehand, the writer can write the draft much faster with a detailed plan.

Just remember, the authors that turn their noses up at planners will sometimes write four to five drafts before they get it right. Not all pantser’s take that long, but if you’re just starting out, I wouldn’t expect getting it done any faster.

When do you want to find out whether your plot works?

You can do this before you write, and change things as they come, or you can do this once everything is written.

In my free workbook, I walk you through on how to write a scene-by-scene synopsis. This is where you write a line per scene into an outline.

Doing this allows you to see your novel with a bird's-eye view.

Are you a linear or non-linear writer?

A little planning can help the non-linear writer.

Doing an outline can allow you to decide what you want to write on any particular day. You can write the beginning at the end, or vice versa. Since you know the whole schematic, you can look at your outline and think, hmmm, today I’m in the mood for a lighter scene, and not the murder scene I had planned on writing.

How will you decide where to plant your clues?

First, you would need an onstage outline, and an offstage outline, to plant clues.

The onstage outline will determine the bones of your story, and it doesn’t have to be very detailed. You just need a map of each scene. Milestones to get you from point A to point B. This helps you stay on track, but also allows for creativity.

The offstage outline is for your eyes only. This one tracks what everyone is actually doing and lets you know when to plant clues and where.

How will you ensure your story has a cohesive structure?

No matter how you do it, you need to understand that understanding story structure is key.

Figure out if you’re a planner or pantser and see which works best for you to get your story structure right. If you take longer because you like to pants it, then let it take longer. No one way is the right way. I’m not asking you to lose your love of writing because now you have to plan it.

But, if you are a pantser, understanding story structure can help you give that “planned” feeling to your readers.

There’s a reason screenwriters bang on about the three act structure, setup, confrontation, resolution, etc.

And why do they do that?

Because it works!

Pantser or planner, you’re going to have to run your plot through the mill of the three act structure, so knowing beforehand will save you time, no matter how you write it.

So once you figure out which type of writer you are, the next step is to learn about story structure.

Basically, story structure is knowing when to put certain “plot” elements in a certain order. This results in a stronger story.

There are hundreds of books out there about story structure, but here are some I recommend to help you get started.

Plot and structure - James Bell

Save the Cat - Jessica Brody

Intuitive Editing - Tiffany Yates Martin

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