story structure

Perfectly Plotted? or, Does Story Structure Matter?

I’ve seen quite a few posts that mention story structure, otherwise known as narrative structure. Many books have been written about it.

One version of story structure looks like this:

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But does this actually help a writer who is creating a story or novel?

Here’s what I think:

These ideas about structure result from analysis and comparison of completed works, often by academics. They are the kind of thing one learns while studying literature. But (for me, anyway) the state of mind needed to bring a piece of writing into existence is totally different from that which analyzes a completed work.

A familiarity with story structures and plot trajectories is of limited use to a writer pounding out a first draft, unless that writer is a full-blown plotter, who builds a story in parts. Pantsers and others who look at first drafts like lumps of mental clay to be shaped with the tools of the imagination don’t need to worry about that stuff–until later.

“Later” is the rewrite stage, when the first draft is finished and the complete material of the story is laid out before the writer. At that point, I (otherwise known as “the writer”) can consider whether the story’s structure corresponds to the diagram above, or to any of the defined plot types, such as “rags to riches” or “the hero’s journey.”

When the first draft is finished, the writer can step back from it and analyze it, identifying places where changes need to be made, possibly making the plot conform to one of the named trajectories. But only if that makes sense to its creator, the writer.

Am I saying writers should ignore story structure? No, but I’m not sure a writer needs to worry about it at the first draft stage. But then, I write from the inside; perhaps writers who devise their creations from the outside find it helpful to consciously design them with structure in mind.

Of course, I could be wrong about this. So, fellow writers, how many of you write your first drafts with story structure in mind? Do you ever adhere to any of the defined story structures or plot types?

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