Justifying Structure

houseofcardsHow are you going to tell your story?

Most authors won’t even think about it. They’ll just sit down and write, and let their story take its own form. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. And, lots of times, it feels the natural way to do it, so why overthink it? If it’s natural, it must be right.



An inexperienced author might use reams of exposition whenever they introduce a new character. This may be natural to them. Does that make it right? To them, maybe, because this is as much as they know. But, in all likelihood, the overblown exposition will disengage most readers for whatever reason – because it bores them, because it shatters their suspension of disbelief, because it’s superfluous, and on this list goes.

Whilst the initial choice behind the structure of your story might be instinctive, it’s worth examining whether that choice (or those choices) have merit and will help or hinder your story being the best possible story it can be.

Is your story going to be first person, second person, third person, or third person omniscient? Why are you using that POV? Think about it. Think about the benefits it gives you and how it serves the story. Does the POV shift? If so, why? A story might transfer from third person (symbolising the protagonist’s disconnect from the world around them) to first person (because now the protagonist has gained a self-awareness). Does it shift from past tense to present tense to show the protagonist becomes hyper-aware of the world around them as it’s unfolding?

It’s great to feel as if your natural choices, as if your instinctive choices, will guide you to produce the best narrative possible, but those instincts are usually informed by knowledge and experience, just the way a top doctor might be able to look at a patient and – despite limited symptoms exhibited – diagnose them intuitively. The doctor isn’t prescient. They might have a lifetime of experience and education funnelling into their interpretation of what’s happening to produce – or, at the very least, complement – that single moment of intuition which produces that diagnosis.

Too many authors want to be innovative or complicated unjustifiably. They employ POV shifts, tense shifts, structural shifts (e.g. flashbacks), etc. The question always is the same: Why? It’s fine to experiment. Experimenting helps us learn by doing. But usually, the best course is the simplest. If you plan to deviate, then bring it back to that question: Why? Examine it. See if it works for you and, if it does, work out why it works for you. If it doesn’t, find out why it doesn’t.

Everything should have a reason for why it’s done outside of it simply being a natural choice. A reader will appreciate these decisions if there’s a justification and purpose behind them, even if the reader doesn’t understand that from a technical standpoint. It’ll engage and stimulate them and their interpretation of your writing. But when these changes exist arbitrarily, with no real grounding or motivation behind them, all that’s likely to happen is you’ll have your reader saying, Huh?

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