Thursday, September 04, 2008

That old problem of structure

A while ago I wrote about the difficulties I have with structuring a story (or anything else I create, if it comes to that.) Today, in my regular email from Time to Write (Jurgen Wolff) I received the first of nine 'answers' to structure, as posited by Louis Danziger. Jurgen has written the thoughts in italics that follow Danziger's points. The interesting thing about this is that Danziger is basically saying each story/work has its own 'formula'. You can't apply the formula from the last novel to the one you're writing now.

1: Design is a problem-solving activity.
In writing, the problem is how to tell the story most effectively.

2: The solution to the problem is in the problem itself.

3: If you are having difficulty in finding a solution, it seems to be most productive to go back to clarifying and enlarging one's understanding of the problem. Restating it, paraphrasing it, asking the questions in other ways, gathering additional information all seem to help. The form is in the in-formation.

When you're having problems telling a story, don't look for a formula. Look deeper into the characters and the story. I've always found that in writing a script, if the middle isn't working, the problem is actually earlier, in the way I've set up the characters or the situation.

4: In the best work, form and content are inseparable. Always seek to find the perfect balance.

Again, it's tempting to make the story fit a formula or paradigm, but the best work comes when you let the story define its own shape. That's why I'm skeptical of courses or books that say 'a romantic comedy must have these 14 steps' or 'a horror film must always have this shape.' Of course letting the story define its own shape is harder.
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