When you think about structure, creativity might not come to mind. Creativity is what fuels your writing, right? So why spend time planning?
For thousands of years, bards have been following very precise story-telling structures in order to reel-in listeners and readers. Even before stories were recorded, the best storytellers were following specific "road maps" per say. Structure is your story's road map.
For Conflict to Work, Structure Must be Present
Conflict is the most basic element of fiction. Conflict may not always look like a battle or war zone - it can also occur between rivals, friends, or within a person. The best fiction is about a disruption, of some kind, and the change it brings about for your protagonist. Without this disruption and the conflict that ensues, why would a reader cheer for your character or buy into the world you've created?
Structure is Your Road Map
There are many ways to utilize structure in fiction works. Here are a few formulas that many writers, and some of the best works of fiction, employ:
1.) Patterns of Power
Oftentimes, the central conflict of a work of fiction focuses on power. This element of structure is rather simple; power in a story cannot be one-sided, or else who would cheer for the losing side? A pattern of power establishes hope, precedent, and gives the protagonist and reader something to fight for.
2.) Connection and Disconnection
Characters within a piece of fiction constantly connect and disconnect. In their relationships, with their original ideology, and with their emotions. Using connection and disconnection as a roadmap for the structure of your work, you can reveal change (good or bad) as the conflict unfolds.
3.) Arc of the Story
If you've studied literature of any kind, you've probably heard of this concept. Using this road map for your structure, you can expect a few things. The story will follow the protagonist to a point in their life, a call to action, and they will depart upon a journey that will end in a culminating event. As perhaps the most traditional element of structure, the arc takes readers along a full-fledged journey.
Choose Your Road Map Wisely
Not every road map of structure will be suitable for your fiction. Is your character battling the trials that come with middle school? Connection and disconnection may be your best bet. Is the protaganist about to save an alternate universe from an evil villain?
This arc is the one for you! With fiction, there's no "size-fits-all" model for structure. That being said, structure is your story’s road map, and essential for you and your reader. With these road maps, you can master your story's conflict, which is the most important component of fiction. Overall, structure in writing helps you to not only create an effective story, but to engage the reader.
*This blog is based on concepts described by Janet Burroway, in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. If you're looking to improve your fiction, we highly suggest this work. You can find it here.