Story Structure

When I teach my Intro to Creative Writing class, I talk about approaching your story like it’s a department store. Walmart, for example. When you enter a Walmart, the departments and items are strategically placed in a way that dictates your emotional response as you move throughout the store.

If your reason for going to Walmart was to buy envelopes and the first department you see is the jewellery department, you might make a pit stop. Same goes with food or clothing. Those departments usually evoke an emotional reaction. Now imagine the first department you encounter is plumbing. You probably won’t have the same emotional reaction (unless, of course, you need to go to the bathroom). So having the jewellery, clothing and food departments up front is smart on Walmart’s part. Odds are you’ll leave with more than just envelopes. Also, your experience with the other departments will affect your mood by the time you reach the envelopes. Your emotions, to one degree or another, will have been manipulated by the store’s layout.

A story or novel functions in much the same way. The manner in which you lay out the information will affect the way your readers experience the story. Give them something ugly to start and that will change their reaction to the beauty that happens later on. Or start with all your pretty things before moving onto the ugliness. In either case, the way in which you present your “departments” will affect your readers' overall impressions.

In other words, think about the emotions you want to evoke in your readers – and then take time to figure out the most effective structure to ensure those emotions come through.

Happy shopping.