So, here we are, Susie May and me, after the Christy Awards sitting in the Marriott Hotel with greats Ted Dekker and Steven James, fellow Christy Award nominees.
(Congratulations to Susie for her second Christy win! And also congrats to Ted!)
Among our company that night was Ted’s daughter, who is also a new, contracted author with Tyndale.
As talk goes among writers, we edged our way to talking about craft. Steven James just came out with a book Story Trumps Structure.
I get what he’s saying. Books are about stories, about people doing amazing things.
No one ever came up to me and said, “Rachel, I just thought of a great structure!”
All writers are dreamers of story.
But James contends too many writers get wrapped around the axel on structure and forget about story.
As you know, here at MBT, we are all about BOTH.
As the conversation rose to a debate and we pleasantly bantered around ideas, I realized it boiled down to an approach in terms more than true disagreement.
Steven asserted people make an outline then try to write to the outline and end up with a bland story.
Agree! “Steven,” I said. “Outline is NOT structure.”
Ted’s daughter, Rochelle, chimed in with me. “Right, it’s just an outline.”
So just what are we talking about here?
James asserted a writer should write themselves into a corner. (My worst nightmare!) Then write themselves out of it.
Ted fell somewhere in between free flow and pre planning a story.
Susie asserted we don’t proclaim a story must be all planned with no new discoveries, but a writer should know where the story is going. And I piped up, “You have to know what the story is about!”
I think, if we’d had more time, we’d have found a lot more common ground. Though I’ll never confirm writing oneself into a corner is a good idea. I mean, it’s how a lot of new writers end up failing.
But what is the balance between story and structure?
Well, story does trump all! What the book is about? What kind of story are you telling? What is the heart and essence you want to communicate.
Books are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Overcoming fear, besetting issues, defeating evil and mending broken hearts.
But what is the best method or approach to putting this all on paper?
James said, “Look, I was five days from deadline and discovered I had he wrong killer. So I called my editor and told her I could fix it, rewrite the book an make it much better but I needed two more months. She said, “Do it.”
He contends pre planning wouldn’t have helped in that moment.
Isn’t that the beauty of writing? Discoverability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered some new truth at the end of the book.
Sometimes I go with it. Other times I do not. Not all last minute discoveries work. They don’t necessarily make the book better.
Susie “tells herself the story” by writing a long synopsis. Based on her gifts and talents, she pretty much sticks to that synopsis. Because by writing the story out “and this happened, then this” she discovers problems as well as nuances.
I know I’ll never write a book again without writing out the whole story. Foregoing that exercise for How To Catch A Prince messed me up.
I don’t do well writing by the “seat of my pants.” I write 400K words to get 90K. Ha! Not an efficient use of my time.
The conversation that night was all over the place, as you can imagine, but in the end, it was great time of fellowship and discussion. I think the group around the table that night more or less agreed with each other… if we came to common grounds on terminology.
We’d all say:
Develop a great story.
Come up with tension and what-if scenarios.
Consider what can go wrong. Do that only worse.
Structure is important so you, the writer, has an idea of where you’re going. Structure doesn’t have to be complicated. James is opposed to the 3 Act Structure. I get that… suddenly novelist have to behave like screenwriters.
But novel structure is simple:
Home world, every day life with a hint of the story question.
Inciting incident that launches the story.
The journey. The Noble Quest. This comes from the story question, what the character wants.
Disappointments and trials. Things don’t go well.
Choice. What are they going to do now?
Epiphany. “Oh, I get it now.”
Is that too much structure? Naw… come on. If you want to make your writing job easier, at least plug in some of these factors.
Know where your story is going and what it’s about.
Story does trump structure. But a story without structure is like a building without a foundation. It’ll topple.