Writer’s Shelf: Story Trumps Structure

by Lana Krumwiede

Writers love writing. We love reading about writing. We love writing about writing. And, as this post proves, we even love writing about reading about writing!

When it comes to pantsers (writing from the seat of your pants) versus plotters (outlining before writing), I fall squarely on the plotter side. To me, the terms “story architect” and “story explorer” seem more accurate. No matter the label, it boils down to this: I need an overall map of where I’m going before I can venture out.

Being a story architect by nature, I’ve read a lot of books about story structure, outlining a novel, and essential plot points. Lately I’ve been feeling the need to evolve my writing process, so I decided to read a book that focuses on the opposing approach. I chose Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James.

storytrumpsJames is a big proponent of what he calls “organic writing,” which is all about tuning into the emotions, the tension, and the heart of the story. I’ve heard writers talk about such things before, and I get it. I do. But approaching the huge and unwieldy task of writing a novel in this way always sounded much too vague to be helpful. However, Steven James is able to articulate those ideas in much more detail than anyone I’ve heard. He took me through that organic process and showed me what it looks like. He gets down to the nuts and bolts of it like no one else has. And I have to say, I learned a great deal.

There were definitely some things I didn’t agree with him about (he has negative things to say about writers groups, for one, and my experience has been completely opposite), but I do feel that reading this book has opened my mind to moving a little toward the organic side.

Truthfully, the pantsers and plotters concept is more of a continuum than a dichotomy. I will probably always lean toward the plotter side, but I believe every writer is a combination of both. One thing I’ve learned is that each story demands something different from its author. With that in mind, it makes sense to sharpen every tool and learn as many techniques as my brain can hold.

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