I always hated the whole idea that something as inherently artistic and, well, instinctive as writing fiction could (or, worse, should) be forced to adhere to structure. The notion is so non-intuitive as to be dumb.
Structure = formula = cliché = what’s-the-point?
No way I was going to try to stuff my creativity into the strait jacket of a preset structure created by some tweed-jacketed nincompoop out there in literary land.
Needless to say, I resisted the whole notion of structure for years.
Structure is everywhere
And then, one day, I actually learned what structure was. The three-act structure, divided into ten distinct parts, suddenly made a whole lot more sense than this nameless framework of rigidity I’d been fearing. But I still wasn’t convinced.
I grabbed my own published novels off the shelf and started flipping through them. And, lo and behold, I found something amazing: structure. Without my even knowing what structure was or why it worked, I had been instinctively structuring my own stories all along. I was flabbergasted.
And then I started to get excited. I began examining my favorite novels and paying attention during movies. Structure was everywhere. Every single book and movie I’d ever enjoyed followed standard story structure to a T.
All that variety! All that brilliance! And structure was what was holding it up. Not inhibiting it or contorting it to fit stereotypes, but actually allowing the authors’ creativity to not only flourish but succeed.
Why your book needs to be structured
And so that brings me back to the title question. Does a book need structure to be published?
Okay, I’ll admit it: this is a bit of a trick question. The obvious answer, after my little spiel, would seem to be yes. And it is.
Stories that aren’t structured don’t work. The rise and fall of action are disproportionate. The story’s setup in the first act goes missing. The growth of character in the second act remains unconvincing. The personal paradigm shift in the third act falls flat. And the important plot points at the quarter mark, midpoint, and three-quarters mark are less than stellar (or just MIA altogether).
If your story isn’t resting on the foundation of a proper structure, its chances of succeeding out there in book world are going to fall somewhere in between slim and nil. But here’s where the trick comes into play. A book won’t succeed without proper structure, but it might end up properly structured without the author even realizing it.
Story structure as instinct
Like me, many authors are unconsciously using structure even before they realize how structure works. This is because, as humans (and particularly humans who have spent our lifetimes absorbing story structure through heavy reading and movie-watching), we have an inherent understanding of how stories are supposed to work. Bully for us, I say!
This unconscious approach to structure is only the beginning. If we can build upon it with a conscious knowledge of what structure is and how it works, we can create successful stories on purpose rather than just by accident.
As I discovered back when, story structure isn’t the enemy in our pursuit of innovative creativity. Rather, story structure is our strongest ally.
Want to learn more about how to structure your novel? Pick up a copy of Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys For Writing an Outstanding Story.
Does your finished novel or work-in-progress have structure, whether you structured it consciously or not? Think about your latest story, then describe the structure.
Write for fifteen minutes, when you're time is up, post your practice in the comments section.
This guest post is by K.M. Weiland. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.