14 July 2011

Writing Craft: Structure

Five long years ago, in high school, my senior english teacher harangued us about varying our structure. She had a booming voice and an easy laugh. (She was one of the first people who didn't offend me when she laughed at me.)

She accused us of writing like high schoolers -- with the simple introduction-evidence-conclusion format we had been taught to follow.

What else is there? I thought in desperation.

I was confident my writing was pretty good, but I wanted to stand out. I wanted to improve. I wanted to impress my teachers with my finesse.

But for the life of me, I could not fathom what structure was if it wasn't intro-evidence-conclusion, with each paragraph starting with a mini-thesis, several points of supporting evidence, and a mini-conclusion that transitions into the next paragraph.

It took me five years since that first suggestion of playing with structure, and I'm only now beginning to form a vague idea of what structure is -- what else there is besides that blockish template from grade school.

Here are some forms I have seen. Some are from books or articles, and some are from fellow graduate students whose structures I admired.

Structure can be...

  • a personal life decision story organized along the track of a board game
  • simple chronological events
  • musings on life organized along a physical journey
  • starting with the tension and going back to build up the backstory
  • separating a story into its components (which can be called chapters, parts, or however) which each has its own miniature tension and story arc
  • completely lacking a thesis!

Actually, I'm not positive about the last one. I do believe that you can have an enjoyable story that doesn't necessarily have the concise descriptive "nutgraf" of newsjournalism. But can you get away without having any sort of thesis at all?

I'm exploring what structure might be, but I still cling to those grade-school comforts.

Now You!
What structures have you seen that you like? Be there such a beast as a story without a thesis?