“…structure is too limiting, it kills creativity…”

“…writing rules take away the art…”

To me, these types of comments are all symptoms of the same thought process. They all represent a misunderstanding about narrative structure and how art–any art– is created by the artist AND understood by the receiver (reader, viewer, listener).

Art is a kind of refined human communication. It is a distillation of human life and existence.  It relies on shared human structures (symbols, processes, etc.) to get its message across.  These artistic structures weren’t invented later–they were observed in the most effective paintings, music, and stories.  They are organic.  They were there all along until someone finally noticed them. When those structures were rendered in an incomplete or faulty way, people observed that part or all of the message was lost.

Narrative structure doesn’t limit creativity–it is its platform.

Some of the earliest stories were survival stories…Stories about why to avoid the bear cave in the spring… Stories about which berries were good to eat.  They didn’t just say… don’t go there and don’t eat that.  They demonstrated WHY by telling the tale of what happened to the people who did, because THAT helped understanding and belief.  THAT made people REMEMBER. Over time, as human society became more complex, so did our means of communication, and so did our stories and narrative structure.

The same is true with writing.  The loosest structure you can use and still communicate effectively is three-act structure. Three-act structure includes –at minimum–three plot points. Four is best for longer works.   I’m not imposing it on the writers I coach, I’m trying to reveal it to them.

Being able to see and manipulate narrative structure is like having a writing super power. If you want the receiver to decide on the message, you use a looser communication structure. If you want to convey a specific message, you craft a more precise structure. It’s not limiting you the creator, it’s giving you the foundation for creating understanding and emotion in your reader.

Structure is essential; rules are helpful.

So, when I talk about structure, I’m not trying to limit anyone. I’m simply attempting to help writers communicate their stories in the most effective way possible. The truth is, that alone isn’t going to help you get an agent or readers. THAT is another set of “rules” and those rules are NOT narrative rules. I may occasionally mention grammar rules, punctuation guidelines, or publishing industry or reader preferences, but those are NOT narrative structure. Please don’t confuse the two.

I wrote this because I resent being pushed in a corner by “anti-rules” folks who simply don’t have a complete understanding of narrative structure and don’t know the difference between narrative structure and publishing preferences, or the difference between narrative structure and current grammar or usage rules. (Hint: narrative structure is ancient. The rejection of adverbs and adjectives is only a few generations old. Both are valid, but only one is essential.)

By the way, three-act narrative structure is not the ONLY story-telling structure, particularly in script writing (e.g., film), but it is the foundation. Once you understand it and master it, there are others to explore.

Peace and good writing.


Author Diogeneia

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