Write it now, part 8: structure is everything in writing

I posted last week about the ‘inverted pyramid’ method for drawing readers into your work. One of the best tips I ever learned.

1197094932257185876johnny_automatic_books_svg_medIt introduces an important point. Structure is everything when it comes to writing.  Everything. Over the next few posts I’m going to outline some of the key ways of making that structure happen – to any scale, in whatever you’re writing.

To me, structure is one of the two key mechanical skills that let writers convey the emotion they have in mind to the reader. The other is ‘stylistic colour’, but I’ll get on to that later.

Structure applies at all levels of writing, from the structure of your sentences and paragraphs – which help you grab the reader and convey the essential emotion that is at the heart of all writing – to the over-arching structure of your entire work. In more detail, these are:

1. Sentence structure.
From a grammatical perspective, sentences need certain things in order to work, and they have to be in certain places. But beyond that, sentence structure is one of the key ways a writer defines their own style. It’s like a signature.

2.  Paragraph structure.
Beyond the immediate level of sentences we find paragraphs; it is at this wider level that the content of the material starts to get more important. Is it in the right order to convey the idea in the right way? That’s as true of non-fiction writing – which presents an argument – as it is of fiction, where the characters are unrolled for the reader across paragraphs rather than sentences.

3. Over-arching structure.
Every piece of writing, however short or long – must have an over-arching structure – the classic ‘beginning, middle and end’. There is more to it than that, of course. The over-arching structure has to lead the reader through an experience. In a novel it is the character arc, interlinked with the plot. In non-fiction it is an argument. It should be possible to write down that key structure in a sentence or two, irrespective of how long the written material is – up to and including epic novels.

I’ll be following these up in the next few posts. Meanwhile, though, what’s your take on structure? Do you break structure down in these ways? How do you make structure work for you?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

 Next time: why seat-of-the-pants writing is bad for beginners. Tomorrow: Russell Crowe’s UFO,  and why it’s rubbish.

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3 thoughts on “Write it now, part 8: structure is everything in writing

  1. Yes structure is very important. I was an Engineer producing hand calculations (In Mathcad on computer when I worked! – A past life now)
    I have always thought that preparing a calculation to prove a metal structure will carry the loads, is like telling a story. In the initial sections, the requirements, basic data, weights, materials etc are all listed.
    Then the main section is the calculations, but divided into sections for each area of the structural design.
    Then finally the reserve factors are listed, discussion and conclusions drawn about the design.

    A story that appeals to me because I like equations and numbers. yet it is a story with the same basic structure of a beginning, middle and end!

    PS I dont work now, all of life is great fun! There isn’t time to do everything, or go to work if they asked me.

    1. I think your analogy is spot on. Systematically thinking through the structural components – including the stresses any of them may come under – and making sure everything is correct, is precisely how writing works. At least for me. 🙂

  2. As always, i’m looking forward to the follow-up posts. Like building blocks, each level of structure relies on the layer “below” it. I find that the sentence structure comes out through instinct as the story is told. The paragraph structure receives the most work during revision. The overall structure is where I use a stroyboard. It also gets tweaked a bit during the process but is pretty much in place before I write too far.

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