I’ve been reading a bit more these past few months, something I’ve been doing less of over the past year (since we all know how busy we were last year–NOT 😐 ). As a writer, I’ve caught myself noticing more lately how stories are structured. I probably always noticed, just not noticed. Know what I mean?
My preferred reading genres follow what I like to write (or is it what I write follows what I like to read?) Anyhow, I gravitate toward mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and urban fantasy. There’s always the occasional non-fiction book, whether craft-related or maybe research for a book.
In any case, lately I’ve noticed some things in the books I’ve read that remind me of my writing classes, specifically the things my writing teacher still says in my head regarding the structure of a story, which hits upon the basics of fiction: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/crisis, and climax/resolution, preferably with a twist and/or big reveal. The “things to pay attention to” between the beginning, the middle, and the end might vary, but it seems those three anchors remain no matter what craft book or class I’ve had.
Some lessons use the three-act structure, some the 7-plot point structure, some the hero’s journey, some try to “save the cat”:
and there’s probably a hundred more variations on the idea, but those core tenets are the ones I hear repeated in my mind when I’m “outlining” (i.e. writing a timeline) or revising. All the different interpretations of story structure follow the same basic path. Try doing a search for “story structure” and just look at the images that come back.
I just finished another book that made me think of this structure in particular, because of the character arc, which followed the story arc: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/black moment/point of no return, revelation/climax, resolution.
As writers, I think we learn from every novel or story we read, maybe not always consciously, but subconsciously. As I read this latest book (if you must know, it was Anne Frasier’s The Body Reader), my writer brain noted the structure:
- This is what started it all, shaped the character. This will determine how the character approaches life.
- Dead body? Okay, who is it and whodunit? Off we go.
- This is–wait, what? OMG, seriously? No way. She can’t … I can’t believe she’s going along with this.
- Oh, whew! Good, she’s gotten back on track. Sort of. Oh, that’s such a bad idea. Don’t do it!
- Ha! I knew he was involved. Wait, oh …
- Holy crap! No way!
- Uh oh …
- Whew! Saved! Now, where’s …
- Oh crap! C’mon, get him!
- Yeah! Got him!
- Now what? Oh, good. Sigh of relief.
- What’s the next book?
Which, I realized as I progressed through the story, was the classic structure, the skeleton of the stories I’ve read and really enjoyed. I thought about some of the other books I’ve read recently. Even urban fantasy books follow the structure, though granted, the obstacles in the way of the main character(s) tend to be way more intimidating than in a regular story (I mean, which would be worse, going up against the bad guy pointing a gun at you, or facing a titan with near god-like powers to fry you where you stand and all you got for Christmas was a skull with a spirit and a carved wooden staff (Harry Dresden, in case you were wondering)).
Which, of course, encouraged me to taked a closer look at my current project, Book 2. Inciting incident, check. Rising tension, check. Black moment? Sort of. Note to self: work on that. Climax? Yeah, that works. Maybe there should be another incident. Tension? Yes, but could be better. Hmm. Add this to jack up tension. Higher stakes. What about this? What if …
Bottom line, reading allows us to see how other authors drape their stories on the skeleton of story structure and utilize it to keep the reader’s interest. It reminds me to pay attention to my own work to make sure I’m taking advantage of a proven formula. So even though I’m not writing, I’m still learning. Yep, I’m going with that.
Now to get back into Revision Round #3. May you all have a creative week ahead!
Keep on Writing!