Writing Time, Part 33. Nailing the Narrative Structure

“I don’t want to spoil the party, so I’ll go.” –Lennon-McCartney

croppersherosmallOf the three top reasons for rejecting short fiction, the too-slow emergence of the central conflict is the one I note most often. It was certainly the reason editors cited for rejecting my own work in the past. Now, I’m writing the same notes next to fully two-thirds of the short fiction submissions I read. Lack of storytelling structure spoils the party every time.

We all know that in storytelling, composition and structure are vital. Even those selections that show up in your university text, and appear to be put together with pipe cleaners and cut-out words from the newspaper, are works of structural genius.

Every reader has inside his or her subconscious mind an expert in storytelling structure. Even a very young reader feels disappointment at the deepest level when writers miss a beat. On the positive side, since we writers, as readers, are also equipped with the same expert critic, we have probably less steps to take than we realize, in order to make our stories work.

But until we do learn how to nail it, our revisions and re-submissions take far too much time. Once we’ve nailed it, we have uncounted more hours to give to our works in progress.

There are a number of books teaching story structure. My personal favourites are Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Wiesner’s First Draft in Thirty Days. These experts, among others, show writers the bones of the stories we love to read and those we love to write.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you. Cheers Mel

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