Using Every Structure

Hand-to-hand combat has a lot of different flavors.

An uppercut is hugely satisfying, but it hurts your hand.  Elbow to the face is a neat, snappy, yet painful hit, but if you brush your funny bone, it's not worth it.  Knee to stomach buys you time, but it's difficult to make those two body parts meet.  Different hits have different connotations.  The ones  you use shape how you fight.

But learning it all is arduous.  You spend years figuring out how to cover your body while you're getting your balance back.  How fast (or slow) can you do a roundhouse kick so that the person doesn't trip you while your back is turned?  When they have a knife and you have a banana, do you make a smoothie or compromise so you can share?  All these questions!

Okay, not the banana thing, but learning all these moves is difficult.  When you finally get it down, however, after hours of training, stuff starts to flow.  You see things coming from your opponent that you can block and exploit.  You feel like it's a dance instead of a frantic slap-fest.  You feel your foot hit your opponent's chest and think The ballet would want me after that twirl.

Totally my thoughts at this point.  Look at that face of concentration.
The same thing happens in every other sport.  The same thing happens in cooking, frankly.  Hey, the same thing happens in video games.  (Tetris, man.  That game is my life.)  So it's not surprising that the same thing happens in writing.

Take it for this month, with structure.  We talk about all the different act structures.  We talk about romance, and thrillers, and heists.  We talk about things that might apply to your story, and things that can never apply to your story.  Do we seriously expect you to use it all at once?

No, we don't.  None of us use any single structure consistently (at least I don't), so we'd never expect you to use this stuff right off the bat.  And we definitely wouldn't want you to try lumping all the different structures into one.  That's insanity ketchup on the already-scrambled eggs of your brain.  It makes no sense.

So, that begs the question.  Why would we, preeminent superheroes and amazing writers as we are, try to teach you all this if we don't expect you to use it?

Well, it's like hand-to-hand combat, and Tetris.  You learn different lessons as you go that may or may not apply to any situation ever again-- then, when you think you're never going to get it, stuff starts to click.  It isn't as if you wake up and say, "Next time I'm in a fight I'm going to start with a left hook," or "I'm going to use five-act structure in my next novella."  But after a while, you're in a situation and suddenly, left hook!  Five-act structure!  Where'd that come from?  You don't have time to worry about it, but it's an amazing feeling.

Do we expect you to apply all of our structures to your novels?  Do we expect everything to click immediately?  Of course not.  If it does click immediately, good for you, but you're one of the lucky ones.  For the rest of us, we learn this sort of thing, store it away in our heads, and know what to do the next time this situation comes up.  After a lot of practice and relearning the lesson again and again, it finally starts to work regularly.

Don't sweat it if you don't nail this immediately.  If you want to plot your next short story or even novel around a structure you learned this month, great.  But it might not come easily.  It might not come at all, for years.  But that's okay.  It's up there in your head, and when the time comes, it will glide down the marble staircase of your mind into your story, fixing all of your problems with its presence.

I need to quit it with the mind metaphors.  Sorry.

The point is, take your time.  Be patient.  Everything you learn is a tool in your toolbox, but you can't force a screwdriver to work when you need a wrench.  The time will come when it all works, and trust me, you'll be glad you stuck with it.

But also, you might find yourself using only a part of each structure, mixing and matching.  For instance, I use midpoints almost exclusively to everything else, and I use three separate definitions for it (Hollywood Formula, Dan Wells' 7-point structure, and Emma Coats' Twitter feed).  You might constantly use the return home or refusal of the call from the Hero's Journey.  Or you might figure out how to make all the different act structures work together as one.  Whatever happens, you'll find your unique way of crafting a story.  That's something you can't rush.

So go write.  Keep moving toward that place of clarity.  It's worth it.

~Captain America


  1. If someone comes after you with a banana, you're supposed to shoot them.

    A lovely and encouraging post, Cap-sicle.

    ~Robyn Hoode

    1. Hey, lookie! I caught Captain America turning up his coat collar! *ridiculous grin* Doctor Watson would not approve. :-P
      I'm allergic to bananas (when they're not in banana bread, which is BAKED,) so that goes double for me. And then I smash the bananas in their hair. Haha!