Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book Review: Story Trumps Structure

This book is the antithesis of the writing books by Larry Brooks. While Brooks advocates starting out with a detailed structure in mind, Steven James believes you cannot force story. His book, Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules, argues for focus that remains on the story itself rather than on rules about its structure.

I believe the author is right. Story is far more important than whether a book follows a particular structure for sound storytelling. If the story is good, the reader won't care whether it fits with the particular plot points and pinch points at suggested intervals. However, I didn't feel a strong pull to keep reading this book about the craft of writing. Granted, my apathy may have been the result of a bout with the respiratory flu, but then again, it could have been that I simply wasn't interested enough in what was presented.

The book is broken down into six parts: 1) The Essence of Story; 2) Secrets to Organic Writing; 3) Story Progression; 4) The Narrative Forces That Shape Our Stories; 5) Subtleties of Characterization; and 6) Plot Flaws and How to Fix Them. My favorite chapter was titled "Meaning: Telling the Truth About the World." It highlighted my own pet peeve with many Christian fiction works (when the message is deemed more important than the story).

He writes: "The impact is lost as soon as your agenda interrupts the story and becomes evident to readers. Propaganda is when a viewpoint is promoted regardless of truth. Art is when truth is rendered regardless of agenda."

I also enjoyed the introduction of the word, "Agathokakological." The word means "consisting of both good and evil." The author provided an interesting discussion around the word and why our writing should reflect both good and evil.

Still, I don't think I gleaned a whole lot of new information about the writing process. I don't understand why pantsing works better for some writers than others. The key to a good story is to provide something at stake that the reader wants to explore or solve. I suppose this author is right when he asserts that the story is king and structure simply supports the story.

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