Last week’s post dealt with choosing the idea, form and genre for a story. Those could be called the building materials; this week we will look at structure, craft and surface: putting the ideas together. As always, the techniques applied here to writing are equally true for any piece of art.
Now that I have a story in mind, how shall I put it together? Shall I tell it chronologically, or let past events come through as flashbacks? What “voice” do I use – first, second or third person? Do I use a narrator? Several narrators? In the finished story, the structure should not be visible, but if it is done well it will make the whole piece feel complete and satisfying.
Perhaps I even start the whole process from here: by deciding I want to write a story that is told backwards, from effect to cause. Or perhaps I want to write a series of loosely connected short stories? I have decided on the structure, now I must choose a genre, a form and collect my ideas.
The right words in the right places. The ability to create deathless prose (or beautiful music, or breath-taking art, whatever your chosen field). This is a learned skill, and there’s no substitute for practice! This is the point at which a detailed study of the masters is helpful, but also the point at which I must begin developing my own style. The trick is to find the right balance. If I start from here, chances are I want to write something full of pithy sayings and original descriptive passages. This is a fine thing, but without a good idea, the right form and structure, and a suitable genre, it wouldn’t make a good story.
This is what everyone will see when my story is sent out into the world. Many people will never see beyond that surface, so I have to make it good. Even people who like to delve into stories and enjoy the ideas at the core may be put off if the surface is unappealing. I have yet to get any of my stories to the sort of “surface polish” that I would like, but I keep working on them!
These six steps can be assembled in any order, and can even change as a story develops. However, the end product must have all six pieces to be complete. A story without a polished surface, or craftsmanship, will feel flat. It may contain great ideas in new and exciting forms, but if it is badly written it will be a chore to read and many people will simply not bother. Without a coherent structure it will be hard for the reader to follow your story – although if that’s your intention, then that in itself will be your chosen structure!
The idea at the centre of the story is what can make or break it, and it is those ideas that can inspire your readers to create for themselves, whether in words, music, stone, dance, or whatever they choose.
Link of the week:
The artist/author is taking a break due to injury, so this is the perfect time to go and catch up on the archives.