assembling-the-jigsawStructure is important so you might wonder why I didn’t begin with this article, the way I see it first drafts are for getting the story down and editing is for hammering out structure. The problem is that when people begin a story thinking about structure and ‘hitting the right notes’ can block them and make it harder to write. So I would advise not worrying about that to begin with.

Once we have our story down we can start moving the pieces around to see where they fit best. Just because you put something in chapter three doesn’t mean it has to stay in chapter three, it might turn out that particular scene works far better in chapter forty-three and that’s perfectly fine. We may discover that the characters fight and separate too early and we need to move it to later in the book or we might discover they need to meet sooner or later than we originally wrote. The important thing to remember that your first draft is completely flexible.

There are a lot of books out there that claim to tell you how to order the events in your story usually using titles like ‘inciting incident’, the event the begins the action. I’m not going to say these are completely wrong, in fact having approached writing from a theoretical perspective as well as a practical one, I’d say it can be useful to know and understand traditional narrative arcs. However, I would warn against feeling bound by them. Sometimes when you approach your story from the perspective of a narrative structure in a book it can cause you to overthink and doubt yourself. For instance, you may begin by thinking character A meeting character B is the ‘inciting incident’ but after reading about the narrative arc start thinking it’s actually when A meets C, not because it is right but because you think it fits more with the book’s description.

As you develop your writing you’ll also develop a feeling for where events go in your stories and this instinct shouldn’t be discounted on the basis of a book. Having spent a life time listening to or reading stories humans also have an innate sense of beginning, middle and end. I won’t tell you that you can’t use a book to help you if you find it does help but listening to your instincts is important too. Quite often your instincts will help you with the things a book can’t because the writer of a writing book has to either make their advice very broad or very specific. These books will never be specific to you and your style so using one to try and hit the right notes could make your writing feel choppy as you might miss bits that fit your story but not the examples in the book.

Writing is about carrying a reader along on an adventure not hitting targets.


For more writing advice see my Advice Page or for more on narrative structure try Finding You Voice.

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