It’s all about structure, right? Until it isn’t.
Structure Is Overrated
Heresy! Structure is everything. You have to create your story in exactly the same way as everyone else who read the same book you did. Because the essence of creativity is conformity.
I swear to Jesus, if I see one more non-writer trying to tell me that Joseph Campbell has all the answers, I’m gonna… overreact horribly. God bless him, but Campbell told us one way to tell one kind of story, which has – thanks to Hollywood bean counters – become the only way to tell every kind of story.
Ignore Hollywood and ignore all the non-writers trying to tell you how stories should be arranged. You wouldn’t take plumbing advice from a non-plumber, would you? Or financial advice from a broke guy? Or weight loss advice from a fat guy?
Here’s all the story structure you need to know: Beginning – Middle – End.
Structure Is Vital
Okay, Don, you’re doing it again. You say one thing, then say the opposite. What’s up with that?
I mean that you need structure to your story. But you don’t need a three-act structure, or 12-beats, or rising action-falling action, etc. etc., etc. All that seems like PhD-level monkey spank to me. A way to sell books about writing instead of a way to tell a story.
At a bare minimum you need a beginning, a middle, and an end. To get more complicated, you need set-ups and pay-offs. You need character development (please don’t call it an ‘arc,’ that sounds so pretentious to me). You need setbacks and victories. You need pathos. You need mystery and you need resolution. All of that is structure. Every bit. But you using a page count to determine when those things happen is sterile and uninteresting. And your readers can tell.
Make Structure Your Own
If you wanted to be a great basketball player, you wouldn’t read a book about it, you’d get out there and practice. You’d also try to emulate a great player, like Walt Bellamy (everybody knows who he is, right?). Same thing if you wanted to be an artist, you’d draw your ass off and reference great works. Writers need to do the same. You learn to write by writing, you learn structure by creating your own and seeing if it works. When it doesn’t work, tear it apart and redo it.
Throw away the books. Do your own thing. Write, revise, rewrite. That’s how you get a story, and that’s how structure is born.