Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...
I've just spent the better part of this afternoon watching England being knocked out of the World Cup and listened to every pundit in the land comment upon how they never stood a chance because of the structure of the team chosen by Capello.
To be fair, structure is something that takes up an inordinate amount of my little grey cells. Not the footie, you understand, but structures in writing. It's fair to say I'm a geek and I sometimes worry about the things that might have had to make room in my brain for my mini obsession.
Would I have been able to read a map? Or remember my Wedding Anniversary?
You see, where a footie fan watches a match and immediately disects the teams' systems, I disect every book I read.
No matter the beauty of the prose, I just can't help myself.
In my view, structure is what will make or break a story every time. A bit like putting John Terry on the wrong side. Doesn't matter how good he is. The structure just won't work.
Whenever a writer tells me about a new project, the first question I'll ask will be what structure they've chosen. The next will be why.
If a blank look follows, I know the writer either has an instinctive talent for structure, choosing the right methos for the story without too much brain ache...or it will end up as a stream of consciousness, which might have some interesting ideas, but won't hang together.
So what then is structure?
Well, let me tell you what it's not. It's not a set of writing rules that have to be obeyed. It's not a formula. It's not a template.
I've often read blogs and writing forums where writers set out the actual structure that they believe a successful story must have.
There is they tell me, a winning system. Follow it and you have a blue print for a best seller. I find it depressing to imagine the legions of would be writers going along with this rubbish, all chained to their system.
Step one: introduce your MC.
Step two: the inciting incident.
Look, one thing I know about this game, is that trying to shoehorn a story into this system won't work any better than Rooney on a bad day.
True, most stories have a familair pattern. It's the one we humans have in our DNA. Most writers know it without giving it any thought.
Take it as given, that if you like books and have spent any time reading them, you already get it.
You don't need to think 'aha, this is where I need my inciting incident,' you're already thinking about introducing your old lover/dead body/long lost relative, at the right point cos...well you are.
So why then do I bang on about structure's importance?
Her's the thing. The steps and systems aren't it. They're not the decisions that we, as writers need t make.
What I'm getting at are the fundemental questions that need to be asked at the beginning of any piece of work.
How will this work best?
A multiple POV?
A collection of letter?
How about two narratives running alongside and meeting deliciously at the end?
An unrelaible narrator?
Go to any book you like and check the structure. Then ask yourself what would have changed if anyother structure had been chosen?
Trust me it becomes addictive. Apply it to all your own work.
Soon, you won't remember your Mother in Law's birthday and you'll have joined the ranks of the obsessed. But at least you won't have just lost 4-1 to Germany.