Story Structure – Guidelines NOT Rules!

Of late, I’ve been working with the concept that perfect story structure is a myth – and should be! As they say in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, “it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”

In story creation, one should ignore structure up front because we all think in narrative to begin with, subconsciously – that’s what narrative is: the pattern or framework we use to find meaning.  And since narrative is how we think, every creative work we bring into the world already has an embryonic narrative structure forming in our subject matter.

The problem is that often subject matter may engender multiple potential narratives that are incompatible with one another at some or many levels. And the job of structuring is to find and refine those potential narratives so that one may be selected as the one round which you build your story.

This creative process tends to take place through four stages of story development:

1. Building your story world – who’s in it, what happens in it, what it all means.

2 Finding the path you want to follow through that world – basically your story’s timeline.

3. Adding in structural story points to act as the cornerstones and lynchpins of your story.

4. Determining the complete structural storyform that best matches your intent for the story.

In that final fourth stage, you use the storyform as a blueprint for your story, but have a lot of leeway in how closely you adhere to it. No one reads a book or goes to a movie to experience a great structure. They go because of their interest in the subject matter and a desire to have the expression of that subject matter ignite their passions.

And so, aside from the most crucial story points, an actual story (as opposed to a theoretical ideal story) can vary considerably from structural perfection whenever the process of making it more structurally accurate would undermine the flow of passion or short change the exploration of the subject matter.

Knowing, for any given story, which story points are crucial and how far one can drift, is a result of experience: the more you practice, the better you get.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-Creator, Dramatica

Learn more about Dramatica Story Structure Software