My Holy Grail of Story Structure
Most books on writing and structure try to teach at you. Instead of showing you which way is best with proper evidence and logic, they try to tell you which ways worked for them and force those ways upon you. It’s a completely vicious cycle of bias that should never happen in a reference book.
This one isn’t like that at all. This one teaches with you.
Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland is my newest favorite writing reference. It teaches you what Hooks are and what they should include, how to avoid opening chapter pitfalls, how to craft scenes the propel your story forward, how to craft your sentences so they make sense within the story, and much, much more — all with examples from other works of fiction and films and clear, thoughtful explanations of each concept.
Okay, let me rewind a sec, ’cause that sentence is a little hard to unpack.
If you’re a writer wondering if you should pick up this book or not, let me ask some questions regarding your knowledge of story structure and your writing process in general.
A Book For the Plotters
Are you aware of Aristotle’s theory of stories having a beginning, middle, and end with climaxes, resolutions, denouements? What about The Hero’s Journey with the Call to Adventure, The Temptress, the Point of No Return, and all that other good stuff? What about Blake Snyder’s screenplay structure hit Save the Cat?
If you’ve heard of any of those or happen to religiously abide by these structures, good.
Because Structuring Your Novel can still help you out.
Structuring Your Novel doesn’t just tell you what story structure is and why it’s useful. It tells you what type of content your story should include in each of the structure points. For example, when discussing Hooks, Weiland mentions that knowing a Hook’s component parts are important to your understand of the story, but also clarifies to the reader that just knowing these parts won’t make your Hook great. The parts in themselves have to do work to keep your reader interested:
“The beginning of every story should present character, setting, and conflict. But, in themselves, none of these represent a hook. We’ve created a hook only when we’ve convinced readers to ask the general question, “What’s going to happen?” because we’ve also convinced them to ask a more specific question—“ What scary reptilian monster killed the worker?” (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton) or “How does a city hunt?” (Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve).”
So even if you know the Hook as “The Hero In His Normal World,” you can still find the principles of structure that Weiland explains useful. It’s one thing to say that a Hook has to show X, Y, and Z. But the way Weiland provides the reasoning for it is so clear and in-depth that upon reflection, it’s no wonder this is an award-winning book. The structure of the explanations of structure themselves are cohesive and clear.
And for those who stay away from structure because they’re afraid it limits their creativity?
This book is helpful for you, too.
A Book for The Pantsers
Some writers like to write by the seat of their pants and see where the story takes them without the thought of structure coming in and telling them what to do. I don’t blame them. When I write a story for the first time, I think I’d much rather type it out in one-go the first time. But when it comes time to revise and I have to turn the random tangents my characters go on into something coherent, I need help.
Enter Structuring Your Novel.
As Weiland explains, structure in a story is not the end-all, be-all for every story. “Structure,” she claims, “is only the box that holds the gift. What that gift may be is as wildly varied as the wrapping paper that hides it.” All stories have Hooks, but not all the Hooks have to have somebody running away from somebody else at the beginning of the story. All stories have a Turning Point, but that Turning Point doesn’t have to be a “Point-of-No-Return” or “Belly of the Beast” sort of Hero’s-Journey thing. Whatever story you wish to tell can still happen, and structure can help make it stronger. You can have all the muscles you want in the human body, but they’re nothing without the support of skeleton.
And that is what Weiland proves time and time again throughout this reference. By working from the general to the particular (from macro story structure to sentence structure), Weiland gives a clear view of the skeleton of great stories as well as the tiniest bones.
I’ve read quite a few books by K. M. Weiland already, but Structuring Your Novel has so far been a godsend to my writing practice. Instead of blindly hoping that my novel’s outline and my chapters will get me in the right direction, I now have a clear checklist of what to include in my story for revision and drafting purposes.
Make no mistake, though. I’m still going to type my absolute first drafts without a plan in mind, because I like that creative flow. I like digging into my stories and finding the raw, uncut ores. But once I step back and took a look at the rough draft with more critical eyes, I’ll be sure to keep Structuring Your Novel close by so I can cut the gem into its proper shape.
5 Well-Deserved Stars