e3941297e17226345b367b4f61e62e3e98e44947f806b5be70

    The Great Story Architecture Debate: Which Side are You on?

    story architechture - 3 giraffes

    Writing is a two party democracy.  To the left are those who write stories from their heart, or according to the other side of the aisle, from the seat of their pants.  On the right are those who write stories from a meticulously constructed outline.

    Sprinkle in a few moderates who dabble in both, and you pretty much cover the gamut of how writers get stories out of their heads and onto a page.

    The two sides don’t talk to each other much.  At least about writing.

    The debate rages on.

    Organic writers claim outlining robs them of spontaneity and creativity, that the only way a story can come alive is to discover the characters and allow them to set the course of the story.  To listen to them.

    Outliners, for better or worse, think that’s just insane.

    The discussion divides a room quicker than politics and sexual preferences.

    How can you craft a story that foreshadows and builds toward a delicious ending, say the outliners, without knowing what that ending even is?

    How can you keep a story fresh and spontaneous, say the organic writers, if you’re merely painting words over a previously constructed outline?  What if you get a better idea along the way?

    The answer to both arguments is… you can’t.  At least not until you bring the principles of story architecture to the table before you write the story.

    And then, outline or no outline, all things become possible.

    To outline or not to outline… that’s the wrong question.

    The issue isn’t about outlining.  The issue is simply the degree of foundational story architecture awareness that a writer brings to their process.

    Without story architecture, both processes ultimately fail.  Stories will come out convoluted, one dimensional, poorly paced and ultimately rejected.

    With story architecture in the mix, the story emerges as a well-oiled machine.  The only question then becomes: is your story compelling, or not?

    Because even story architecture can’t save a bad idea or weak execution.  Even if you outline it to death.  You can lead a horse to engineering school, but you can’t make him an artist.
    The dark side of organic storytelling.
    Many organic writers – those who just start writing without an awareness of how their story will flow or turn out, which is the every definition of compromised story architecture – use the drafting process to discover their characters and the story’s structure, rather than beginning with those elements in their toolchest.

    In other words, they’re searching for story architecture as they go.

    But story architecture is universal.  The principles apply to every story.

    If a writer understands basic story architecture, organic drafting becomes an efficient and joyful process.  If they don’t, it’s an exercise in frustration, something they may not even understand until the rejection slips arrive.

    You wouldn’t fly an airplane without knowing how an airplane flies.  You wouldn’t slice open an abdomen without understanding basic surgical procedures.
    And yet, this is precisely what some writers do with their stories.

    The hidden infrastructure of stories

    As much as some organic writers don’t like to admit it, there is indeed a basic architecture for successful stories, with specific milestones that must appear at quite precise places.  Successful organic writers understand this, which means that as their stories pour unrestrained out of their heads onto the page, they do so in alignment with those principles

    Outliners who construct story blueprints without that same awareness suffer the same fate.  Their manuscripts are merely fruitions of a broken structure, and while they may get to a “final” draft before their more organic counterparts, it’ll be just as lacking in what publishers are looking for.

    The elusive magic pill of storytelling

    On a more half-full note, bringing a keen understanding of story architecture to your writing process is more than empowering, it’s essential.

    To write a successful story, you can’t wing it and expect to get to the promised land.  That doesn’t mean you need an outline, it means you need a foundational core competency in story architecture.  No matter how you write.

    Once you have it, you can wing it all you want.  Your stories will come out in the right sequence with proper pacing.  Or, you can get there by constructing outlines that yield stories in which everything is in the right place at the right time.

    How you get there is up to you.  If you get there is up to your grasp of the principles story architecture.

    Outlining is optional.  Story architecture isn’t.  Debate over.

     

    image courtesy of Pixabay

    About the author

      Larry Brooks

      Larry Brooks’ runs the popular writing craft blog, Storyfix.com. He is the author of novels and writing craft books, including the bestselling Story Engineering, and his newest book, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant. You can find a series of videos that he calls “hardcore craft training for serious authors,” available at his new training website.

    • iris may says:

      honestly, all i do is write a very simple outline and, if i want to, change it along the way. it keeps me going because i know where to go, but it also lets me have creativity.

    • Claire says:

      Really interesting concepts. I’ve always been a “pants-er”, but until last November, I had never finished a novel. In November I did nanowrimo ( a writing competition). For the first time, I didn’t start writing the minute I had an idea. The plot was festering in my mind for weeks and the characters were chomping at the bit to make it to the paper. Even though I didn’t write a formal outline (and couldn’t- I think it would have bored the wits out of me) I had an outline in my mind. I knew exactly where the story would start and where it would end. I knew each character as well as if we’d been on the same team in high school. And I knew the setting as if I’d grown up there myself.
      What works for each individual is, well, individual. But, I definitely believe that you have to know your story to write it. Thanks for the insights.

    • Omar says:

      I dabble in outlining and organic writing. I think its great to be skilled at both.

    • Missy says:

      Wow.

      First off, I loved this post. It gave me a few ideas and gave me a new perspective on some other stuff. So thanks for that.

      But really, I got more out of these comments than I did from the actual post. All of you guys have flooded me with new ideas and concepts, and I’m eager to learn more about them. Also, thanks for all the links posted–I’ll be checking them out soon.

      Thanks for writing this, Larry. Thanks for arguing, Fekket.

    • Matt says:

      @FekketCantenel

      No comments, but the entry is at http://www.inflatableink.com/2009/08/on-not-knowing-why.html

    • FekketCantenel says:

      @Matt:

      “. . . over-reliance on motivation can be reductive, and that we also need to leave room for chaos, or for motivations that remain obscure.”

      I think you’ll get a kick out of my upcoming article. Heck, I think you just inspired a section of it.

      Could you link to the place where you argued about over-reliance on motivation? I’d like to see that comment thread (if there was one).

    • Matt says:

      @FekketCantenel

      You’re right of course. I over-stated my case. Motivation is not fundamental. In fact I’ve argued in the past (after an essay by Aimee Bender) that over-reliance on motivation can be reductive, and that we also need to leave room for chaos, or for motivations that remain obscure. I’d like downgrade ‘fundamental principle’ to ‘very useful technique’. I think I can probably stand by that 🙂

    • Larry says:

      @ Matt — you wrote: “I’m not sure that this language boils down to strict principles of story, however. The hero’s journey, and various related structures seem to me to be useful templates rather than hard and fast rules.”

      I couldn’t agree more. If my article implied that the rules of structure are strict, my bad, because for novelists they’re not. Screenwriters, yes, but noveists have a wide berth. Rather than “rules” — a word that seems to offend, and NOT one I used in my post, by the way — what every story needs is some dotted line connection to the “principles” of storytelling,
      which is precisely what you reinforce in your comment. You refer to them as templates, which is actually more rigid than principles, but helps make our point. So thanks for that.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      @Andrew Jack: ‘Professional and courteous’, you say. Here’s why I rolled my eyes: I work for a lawyer. I know what ‘professional and courteous’ is because I and my boss have to be so every weekday. I’m told we’re excellent at it. If the guest poster worked at our office and acted anything like he has here, he’d have been fired inside a week. That’s my measure of ‘professional and courteous’.

      @Matt: “On the other hand, some elements of writing are fundamental. A character should have a motivation that drives her through her scenes.”

      I actually disagree with even this ‘fundamental’ element. The first counter-example to come to mind is Arthur Dent of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I only ever read up to the third book, but as I recall, he wanders through the scenes with no motivation, not even that of survival except when things get very dangerous. It’s the forces and people around him who push him forward. Yet these books are lauded as some of the best science fiction ever written (not that I agree, but they’re pretty good). So this can be a pretty fun rule to mess around with. Maybe I’ll include it in my upcoming article (which is in the outline stage at the moment and has the first section drafted).

      Thanks to two people for capturing my thoughts pretty well:

      @Our Leader (Leo Babauta): “No one person can decide a debate is over” Thank you. So glad to hear I’m not the only one who thinks so.

      @Mickey B: Just . . . Wow. Your entire comment made me say “Bam!” out loud. You captured exactly what I’ve been thinking. I want to buy you a beer, it made me so happy. Keep on typing, you magnificent space cowboy.

    • Matt says:

      I tend to agree that the outline/organic division misses the point. Outliners and organic writers look for story, develop characters, settings and motivation. Outliners tend to do more work upfront. Organic writers might spend more time revising. We’re talking the same language, though.

      I’m not sure that this language boils down to strict principles of story, however. The hero’s journey, and various related structures seem to me to be useful templates rather than hard and fast rules.

      On the other hand, some elements of writing are fundamental. A character should have a motivation that drives her through her scenes. Antagonists should have their own objectives. Out of this clash a story can be forged.

      These needs are not always what the writer or the character thinks they are. The processes of both outlining and revision should reveal them to the author, though the characters (and, for a time, the readers) may remain deluded.

      Personally I outline, and then I use that structure as an excuse to go as crazy as I need. I like having rules to break.

    • Dang, I come back and read this and it’s thirty nine comments long. A few things…

      Fekket: Get a grip on yourself. I’ve read all of the comments on this blog post and so far you are the only person coming across badly. Larry’s post is strongly worded, for effect, but in his replys (despite you abusing him) he has been professional and courteous.

      Everyone else: Prior to reading Larry’s stuff I was a seat of the pants writer, structure was the anaethema that destroyed creativity. I started a lot of projects and never finished any of them. Applying structure allows me to know where the story is going so i can think in a clear direction…but it’s my damn book and I can change it whenever I like, structure just heps keep me grounded. Having read Larry’s book and blog (both good) I haven’t agreed with everything he’s said, but I have at least tried to implement some of his suggestions and just in trying them I’ve busted myself out of a rut.

      Finally, if you won;t try anything Larry suggests, then I have a question… “Are you a published author? If yes…awesome. If no, give it a try what’s the worst that can happen?”

    • Mickey B says:

      Goodness. Other than James Joyce and Robert Graves, and a few others, writers through the centuries have done just fine without consciously invoking mythology, or consulting Joseph Campbell, Chris Vogler, or any other writing “guru”. Only in the last fifty years has writing become a “can-do” activity instead of a “must-do”, or at least a joyful exploration. Don’t get me wrong: I like Joe Campbell and Chris Vogler. Even Aristotle has his charms. And I’m not promoting self-indulgence. I just get a little crazy because it seems so many writing discussions center on mechanics, and so few on the more organic challenge of translating life into the lie that is art. It seems to me more important that a writer have his *own* idea of structure (i.e., a construct that works for the writer and the reader),rather than aping tradition slavishly. (Unless, of the course, the point is to do something in the style of yore, in which case, go for it.) Of course, be well-informed, honor the past, but I find one of the greatest joys of writing is the often quixotic attempt to be original.

    • Lloyd C says:

      A good writer has to understand story structure (or architecture) foremost and whether they outline or go organic (I tend to do a hybrid approach) doesn’t really matter. What counts is what comes out on the back end.

      Chris Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” is a great example of building your basic architecture and understanding that time honored tradition of story structure.

    • Leo Babauta says:

      Actually some of the best writers of the 20th century, often known as the modernists, famously eschewed what you call story architecture. They felt it was a false mirror.

      I’m not sure you can make an announcement like “debate over” at the end of a post and have it be accurate. No one person can decide a debate is over — you have to wait and see if people will continue the debate.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      Mary Jaksch, maybe you should check out the Zen Habits forums (http://zenhabits.net/forums/), this blog’s sister site, which I administer. I never delete anything but spam on it. As a result, it actually is “a supportive place where we can all grow and develop”, not a one-sided bullying session like this.

      You have so far deleted two of my longest posts, which together took me almost two hours to outline and write. You’re probably going to delete this one, too, because it disagrees with you. Meanwhile, the guest poster openly heckles me, one of the crimes you mention in your post, yet you praise him for being ‘spicy’. I’ll let the site owner decide how fair that is.

    • CueZee says:

      Wow, this is simply what I was looking for to improve my blog writing. “Outling vs. Organic Writing”, how much sense this makes.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      P.S. Since my idea was lost in the very long post that Mary deleted, I’ll repeat myself: I’m currently working on an article espousing skepticism of any and all ‘rules’ of writing. Look for it on this blog soon. In the meantime, you can check out my previous article here, ‘Clean Up Your Narration’:

      https://writetodone.com/2008/02/29/clean-up-your-narration-four-tips-for-fiction-writers/

    • Hi Everyone,
      I’d like to remind you that Write to Done is a supportive place where we can all grow and develop as writers. In order to help each other grow, we need to respect this protected space, called Write to Done.

      I think it’s fine to debate, and even to disagree. But it needs to be done with respect and good humor. I’ve deleted a comment where Larry was called a prick. Name-calling, heckling flaming, or spamming is not welcome on this blog.

      I’m happy to publish dissenting comments, but they need to be courteous.

      I’d like to thank Larry for putting forward a spicy post that seeded vigorous discussion.

    • Mickey B says:

      Just to add another perspective to the debate, here’s Julie Myerson, writing on Nick Hornby’s new novel:

      “Elasticity – a sense that a novel has been written, in part at least, because its author needed to find something out for themselves – is an underrated part of what creates narrative atmosphere and tension. It’s also a large part of why we read on. Nick Hornby is an enormously accomplished writer, but next time I’d love to read less about what he’s already decided and more about what he still needs to find out.”

      This, in a nut-shell, is the problem with plot, or structure-driven narrative. Of course writers must find a balance between spontaneity and order, but I think erring on the side of spontaneity (at least in a first draft) produces some good workable results.

    • Great post. The balance between outlining and creating depends on the complexity and length of the piece and the writer’s preference. But there has to be a balance, not one or the other. My take at http://barbsawyers.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/to-think-or-not-to-think/

    • Larry says:

      @Fekket — you wrote: “My complaints are that you seem to be preaching an entrenched, inflexible thought process and that you come across (at least here; haven’t read your blog) as a prick.”

      Wow. Never been called a prick, or even “foolhardy” in an online forum before. A first for everything. And even if I was preaching those things (which I’m absolutely not, by the way, anybody who has read the post can see that), it doesn’t make me a prick or foolhardy. Wow.

      You also asked if you are the “only one only one bothered by a post called ‘SOLVED’ with even one dissenting comment below it?” I think the answer is yes. Because everyone else actually READ the freaking post. The article clearly takes the position that debating outlining vs. “flowing” or “pantsing” isn’t the issue, and that the debate (which you clearly wish to perpetuate) isn’t relevant or an issue. Because at the end of the day successful stories have some form of architecture (which you tend to agree with). How you get there… it’s all good.

      Maybe it’s my tone. Sorry if I offended you. Then again, maybe it’s you. This is a place for productive exchange, and dissent is welcome. But words like “prick” and “foolhardy” aren’t productive or welcomed here on this classy forum Mary has brought us all. You might consider that the only contributor who comes close to those terms is you.

      Please come back when you can be constructive instead of insulting and negative. And please, read the post again (or in your case, for the first time), and if necessary, get someone to explain it to you.

    • Oke says:

      This is a very good post. While I made the decision to become a writer I have mostly been a person of writing with the flow of it. I’ve written blog post, started a novel, many essays, and just writing in general with the use of my imagination leading the way. I went back and forth with my girlfriend and other friends about writing with the flow and generating an outline. I have come now with the conclusion that both have there place. Just recently, I have finish up writing an outline for my novel, non-ficiton, and with my latest essay. I think the best way to go about this notion of to write an outline or not to, is to ask yourself a question on whether it be easier to go with the flow or would it be easy to jot down some key points to organize your thoughts.

    • Renato says:

      This post lacked architecture, or structure, or outline, or something. I read it and reached the end not knowing what it was all about. :-S What was it that I was supposed to take home from it? Have a great day!

    • Exactly. I love the phrase ‘story architecture.’ At it’s very core it’s a moot argument: writers are all individual, you can’t make one write this way and another write that way. Outline or no outline. But you can demand that every writer knows the fundamental of architecture and their work. Whether they choose to follow those fundamentals, well that’s another story…

    • I think these two approaches are just OK. one appeals to the intelligence and the other appeals to the emotions. One is for the brain and the other is for the heart. A good work should be able to take the readers along with it, irrespetive of its approach.

    • Mickey B says:

      Great article, one of the best I’ve read on the subject. The only thing I’d like to comment on is my own personal antipathy to structure books, and anything that reeks of formula. I’ve found that:

      (a) all of us have an innate sense of structure, inculcated by a lifetime’s worth of reading books and seeing movies and plays — if we trust the way we’re wired, we’ll be better off than we are enlisting our left-brain in a right-brain pursuit.

      (b) I encourage neophyte writers to come up with their own theories of what constitutes structure. Re-read some of your favorite books or watch some of your favorite movies. Pick them apart. Decide for yourself, in your own language, how these works operate, what drives them, how they’re constructed. Abandon critical theory — to try to regulate your own creative work by the ideas of others is a sure path to failure. I’ve seen it a million times.

      Thanks again for a great article.

    • Larry says:

      I said: “To challenge them, to reject them… well, that’s just unfortunate, and never foolhardy.”

      Meant to say “always foolhearty.”

    • Fekket,

      Thanks a lot – I’m glad you enjoyed it and look forward to seeing your article on defying the rules – do you have a blog of your own? Like Larry, I’ve found that the more you follow the story basics of where the tentpoles go, the more freedom you actually have under the tent.

    • janice says:

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to visit, Larry (&Mary) – I’ve been ill.

      I’m open to inspiration wherever it comes from and write ‘organically’ but I’m passionate about structure at all levels, from the sound of syllables to the subtleties that hold entire series of books together. (It’s no coincidence that JK Rowling had the ending of her seventh book ready before she wrote all seven books.)

      My daughter and I both loved your series on analysing and incorporating story architecture, Larry. I’ve read enough bestsellers and watched enough films over five decades to know that your theories are sound.

    • Larry says:

      Thanks to all who have chipped in, especially on the clarification side. As for fence jumping, I tend to go there, too. Leaping into forbidden territory can be illuminating and rewarding. I just don’t try to violate the principles of mother nature (as in, what goes up must come down… I don’t want to come down on the wrong body parts) when I do. And, if you want to publish your writing, neither should you.

      @ Kimmo — story architecture is very much a product of a process, and as such, the process needs to unfold in context to it. Process with that context is like, well, running in circles on the beach… fun, great exercise, but you get nowhere. If fun and exercise is one’s objective, then circle away. If getting published is the goal, circles don’t get us there. As I said, we all need to find a process that works for u — outlining, not outlining, a little of both, whatever — and what makes any process works is an underlying grasp of the principles of storytelling.

      @Jerry — thanks for your link, I’ll look forward to checking it out.

      @ Lisis — maybe it’s the word “rules” that gives you problems. Allow me to point out, the word “rules” never appears in my post. Not once. Story architecture is a principle and a guideline, one what will lead you to publication; or more accurately, one that when ignored will keep you from publication.

      Several comments have pointed out precisely what I said in this post: many successful writers apply the proper sensibilities of story architecture intuitively, it frames and influences what flows from their creative process organically, and completely without an outline. Stephen King writes this way, as do many other successful authors. If you can do that, then hey, go for it. Trouble is, so many writers who don’t understand those principles believe they can build their stories without the necessary infrastructure, and that’s a recipe for failure.

      What principles? A hero who needs or wants something. Opposition to that quest. Inner conflict that complicates that quest. A tension of building tension. An evolving story that changes the game along the way. And most of all, stakes. These aren’t rules, they’re the truth of storytelling. They are like gravity, they just are. To challenge them, to reject them… well, that’s just unfortunate, and never foolhardy.

      To attempt to package them in an accessible manner, rather than running in circles on the beach chasing them down, isn’t either.

    • Kimmo says:

      Thanks for the article!

      However, in a later post Larry writes: “Never seen a published novel yet that didn’t have some form of story architecture.”

      Well, you are probably right. I just want to point out that observing the finished product tells us often very little about the process. So, seeing “an architecture” in a published book doesn’t mean the author necessarily had any idea of that architecture when she was writing the book.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      (My longer post is in moderation at the moment.)

      Jerry, I like your linked post (and any post with nice clear subheaders), and it’s a very good explanation of the three-act system. If I wind up writing an article about rule flexibility, I might refer to it when I’m punching holes.

      It just occurred to me that part of my attitudes about inverting and subverting rules can be blamed on a single site:

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HomePage

    • Larry is correct that there are some basic elements of what makes a story work – and his point is that you can fail to include these whether you write with or without an outline. I make a living crafting stories, as well as helping other people tell the stories they want in a way that makes narrative sense. I’ve got a seven-minute primer on my site on what makes a story work (@ http://www.jerrykolber.com/how-to-write-a-story/).

      It’s a quick “just the facts” read that applies to short stories, novels, or screenplays. Larry over at storyfix.com is, as others have already pointed out, also a great resource.

    • poch says:

      How can Larry be clearer than this?

    • Shirls says:

      Sorry, that should have been Keats, not Keta.

    • Shirls says:

      All I can say is I have half a dozen poor little tumbledown shacks that petered out at Chapter 7. Then along came Larry and I could relate to Keta when he wrote:
      Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
      He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men
      Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
      Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

    • Kelvin Kao says:

      I’ve found that some people can crank out stories really fast and they can come out to be good stories, though not that polished, in a short span of time. These people don’t tend to outline a bunch. They might just write down a few key events, and they can just start drafting. It’s because they already have this architecture in their head, and it naturally keeps things in check.

    • Kat Eden says:

      I’m an organic writer by nature (even when it comes to research-based posts, which has worked against me), but have found a happy medium every since reading a Problogger post on “How To Write Fast”. The author spoke about mentally pre-planning her posts whilst driving, running errands and so on.

      Sure, this is nowhere near as structured as writing could be, but it’s saved me a lot of time and frustration when it comes to my blog, and I’m pretty sure the thinking process has made me a better writer to boot.

    • Larry says:

      Somebody needs to read the post again. The “debate” is between outlining versus organic (seat of the pants). The astute reader (versus the “foolhardy” one, will see that both are acknowledged as viable, as long as the writer knows what she or he is doing.

      As for making up your own rules, good luck with that. Never seen a published novel yet that didn’t have some form of story architecture.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      Well, to be clearer, I’m not saying there’s absolutely no rules/guidelines. There are, I think, absolutely bad books/authors out there. Most people have a personal list (mine includes Danielle Steele, Dan Brown, and Vladimir Nabokov), but beyond that, there are universally-frowned-upon things. I listed bad English and childish mistakes above; they are examples.

      I guess that what I’m actually saying is ‘there are very strong, good rules, but creative and skilled writers can find loopholes in every one’. Catcher in the Rye is a good rambling book; people seem to like A Clockwork Orange (I didn’t reach the second page), so easy comprehensibility isn’t paramount; and so on.

      Maybe my beef, therefore, is the post’s foolhardy assumption that telling everyone a supposedly 100%-true rule will end all debate. All you’re doing is putting up a picket fence; I enjoy trying to vault them.

    • Lisis says:

      I didn’t even realize there WAS a debate. I always just figured there was more than one way to get the job done. I kinda like the idea mentioned above: “the only rule is that there are no rules”. Not sure I’m comfortable with the idea that stories always have the same structure or architecture.

      Still… lots to think about here. I’m intrigued.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      Nice of you to answer my #1 in a comment. Maybe you could email Our Leader and get him to add that to the actual article.

    • FekketCantenel says:

      Three big problems:

      1) You go on and on about story architecture and then provide no hint on what that is or how to find out. A Google search for the term yields nothing helpful. A glance at your blog shows that you’ve written a series of posts on the subject, but could you provide a link to an introduction?

      2) I find it funny that you say that both sides are wrong, and then espouse a position that could be seen as light outlining, therefore technically taking sides. If you’re portraying the left as totally free spirits with no structure, why do you think they’ll be any more open to this than they are to full outlining?

      3) Hell no, the debate isn’t over. This quote is what bugs me:

      ” . . . there is indeed a basic architecture for successful stories, with specific milestones that must appear at quite precise places.”

      I assume, therefore (not having read your blog), that you are a member of the three-act, ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ school or something similar — in other words, that all good stories have essentially the same structure. (If this isn’t what you think, assume I’m talking about someone else below.)

      Now, your ultimatum (“Story architecture isn’t.”) is, I think, mostly true by itself; books that blatantly wander from topic to topic with no aim and then just end are harder (for me, at least) to bear. The only example I can think of that was entertaining was Catcher in the Rye.

      However, I can’t stand it when people try to say ‘you must plot your story exactly this way; nothing else will be good’. Let me try to capture my complex attitude in a few words: Writers are paid so much to do such a relatively luxurious job that I have always felt we need to really crunch ourselves into the job, give it all we have. That includes (among many other things) thinking outside the box, trying to throw in surprises.

      Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, the only rule is that there are no rules, except possibly ‘it must be in actual English’ (screw you, Finnegan’s Wake) and ‘it must not be childishly bad and full of obvious mistakes’ (screw you, Dan Brown).

      Full disclosure: As in life, I’m pretty far to the right, but with a system of my own. I come up with a very generalized idea of the book when I start, and then outline ten chapters ahead or so as I draft. My outlines are far from detailed, but contain the basic plot points I want to achieve within the chapter. I’m very flexible with my outline and feel free to move points between chapters when needed.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Larry and the folks at Write to Done,

      Great post, as usual. I’m going to keep this comment short – as opposed to my usual droning comments over at StoryFix.

      I want to respond to Jeremy: Hi Jeremy: Great question! For straight-forward and truly unique guidance about story architecture, become an avid reader of Larry’s blog, StoryFix.

      I’ve learned a lot about story architecture from Larry. I think you’ll appreciate what I’m saying be seeing for yourself. : )

      Cheers – Larry!

    • Larry says:

      Wanted to respond quickly, as Jeremy asked a specific question. And to Faery… you’re correct, many “pantsers” actually do far more outlining in their heads than they either know or care to admit to.

      Jeremy — there are several good books out there on structure. “The Hero’s Journey” is good, and “Screenplay” by Syd Field is also a terrific primer for novelists. My site, http://www.storyfix.com, is pretty much focused entirely on story architecture, so I invite you to stop by. There’s lots to learn, and while it may be intuitive to some, it’s very specific in nature and, if not learned, can takes years to finally comprehend. Doesn’t have to, though, if you’re open to it.

      Suzanne — thanks, as always, for your alignment on the fundamentals of solid story telling. And yes, we’ll get to that online “conversation” we talked about earlier, hopefully soon!.

    • “Outlining is optional. Story architecture isn’t. Debate over.”

      well thats where you provided an elegant solution in two simple sentences.

    • Jeremy says:

      So what’s the best way to improve my understanding of story architecture?

      • Sami says:

        This comes a bit late, but I’d recommend “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker (2005). It is a big book, a bit repetitive at times, but very thorough and most exciting at it’s best. As promised, it really changes the way you think about stories. It will teach you the basic mechanics of storytelling.

    • faery says:

      What an interesting and creative solution to the debate!

      I do believe everyone outline their story, but to a degree. There are some whose habits of outlining are more apparent, but there are others who outline, either in their minds or even “a la carte,” so effortlessly perhaps, that they don’t categorize it as outlining but another beast altogether…

    • “Outlining is optional. Story architecture isn’t. Debate over.”

      Larry, you put this all so well, it makes perfect sense. You have some really solid points for both sides of the argument.

      I hope all us outliners and organic writers can make nice now!


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