Structure. It’s probably something that most of us who sling a keyboard for a living don’t consciously think about. But structure is an important, if not essential, part of writing.
Structure helps you build and argument or tell a story. It allows you to add drama and suspense to what you’re writing. It allows you to pace the way in which you feed information to readers.
Depending on what I’m writing, the structure of the piece often develops organically when I’m putting together an outline. Sometimes, that structure becomes apparent when I’m writing.
Over the years, I’ve encountered a number of different structures for written work. Ranging from the traditional beginning-middle-end to a more Tarantino-like structure. I remember something John McPhee said about one of the essays he penned, that it had a Q-shaped structure. I’m still not sure if it was a capital or lower-case Q …
Lately, I’ve been reading books published by The Domino Project. Admittedly, I’ve only read three books published under that imprint but all three have been interesting and useful in their own ways.
Of the three — Anything You Want, Do the Work, and Poke the Box — two didn’t have the kind of structure that you’d expect from a book. the third did, but took the traditional strucuture of a book and played with it.
Anything You Want and Poke the Box weren’t written like traditional books — which have parts, chapters, and sections. Instead, they were written like extended essays. That’s not to say that the books were made up of endless blocks of text. They weren’t. Headings shaped text into sections. Sometimes those sections consisted of a single sentence.
Of course, that structure makes a lot of sense. Many of the books that The Domino Project publishes are manifestos rather than traditional tomes.
That kind of structure works because:
Because of that, and the short paragraphs and sections, you’re given the opportunity to stop at any time. I’ve found, though, that you don’t want to stop too often.
The best advice I can give you is to play around with the structure of what you’re writing. Don’t get too wild or go too far out into left field. Try to go beyond the beginning-middle-end that’s so common.
By experimenting, you can find structures that work for you. Maybe starting in the past and moving to the present works. Maybe it’s the reverse. Or, you could introduce a number of different threads, then pull them together.
Be warned that not every experiment in structure that you undertake will be successful. It might work for you, but it might not work for your readers. For example, I’m a huge fan of the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Of his books, the one that didn’t work for me is Autumn of the Patriarch. Each section of the book is one seemingly endless paragraph. There are no breaks, at least not until the end of a section. It’s very taxing on the reader.
Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.
Photo credit: amr_safey