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