Why you should embrace the concept of structure instead of dreading it


By Susanne Dunlap

Structure. Even the word sounds unapproachable. It’s full of hard edges and unfriendly, closed “u’s.” But that’s probably not the reason many writers shudder when they think of structure in relation to their work. Google “structure in fiction,” or “structure in memoir,” and you get a gazillion prescriptive articles and essays and even whole books. You’ll find anywhere from three basic structures to seven. You’ll find formulas that tell you to put your inciting incident here, your first pinch point there, your climax at this juncture, and plot points here, here, and here, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t know about you, but the formulas that supposedly guarantee to make your book a page-turner make my teeth itch. In fact, I admit that it is possible to draft an entire manuscript without ever directly addressing the issue of structure, beyond knowing that you have to have a beginning, a middle, a climax, and an end.

Here’s the secret, though: if you understand the basic structure of storytelling on a more granular level as it applies to your manuscript, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and possibly many not-quite-there drafts.

Having a clear concept of your story’s structure can help in different ways. It can help you keep the momentum going through the messy middle. It can make it easier to see how and where you need to revise. It can reveal plot holes and inconsistent character behavior.

Yes, considering how your story is structured is not limiting, it’s freeing.

My entire relationship with structure changed when I started learning how to be a book coach. Book coaching has taught me that structure is not rigid—I know that sounds contradictory—but that it is organic, interwoven with the fundamentals of story.

I’m really excited to share some of my insights and tips about structure, as well as practical tools you can use to make sure your story hangs together in a satisfying way. I hope to see you in my online workshop, Blueprint Your Book: Building a Solid Book Structure on Saturday, August 8th from 9:30am–12:30pm!