How the Principles of Architecture Can Help Your Writing
I always dread trying to talk about structuring pieces of writing because it’s just so damn hard to talk about. And yet its importance is enormous, so we need to talk about it! In fact, structure might be the difference between good writing and great writing. There are lots of people who can research and report well. There are quite a few people who can stitch together lovely sentences. The big leap from there, though, is taking those lovely sentences and arranging them in the right order, with the right flow and ebb; the right amount of detail paced properly throughout; just enough intrigue to keep the reader engaged but not so much as to be confusing; the sense of momentum and reward when the story peaks and then gently winds down. That structure is what makes a piece of writing exceptional.
What makes structure hard to talk about is this: First of all, it’s so different for every piece that there is no rule book that can be universally applied. Second, in large part, structure has to be intuitive, so no one else (not even a great editor) can figure it out for you. But there are ways to help you improve how you structure your pieces, so don’t despair. Not to state the obvious, BUT—recognizing the idea of structure is a step in the right direction. Appreciating that you need to “build” a story and not just lay down one sentence after the other is key. If you’re still puzzled by what “structure” means, go back and look at a story you really admire. Even if it seems like a tedious exercise, try to annotate the story so that you can identify how it’s built. For instance, note where the lead ends; note how the timeline emerges; note where new characters are introduced and how they’re brought into the story; try to identify where the theme of the piece is hinted at and how it is played out through the piece. The best stories aren’t just chronological and linear. They return to ideas and circle back to characters and places. That’s what makes them feel multi-dimensional rather than flat.
Once you’d examined a successful piece, think of what you’re working on and how you can deploy some of what you’ve learned. One step is to free yourself from feeling that chronology controls the narrative. I’m not saying you should jumble a…