Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Star Wars and Seseme Street Can Teach Us About Story Structure

   The other day I was looking at an article on entitled "17 Images That Will Ruin Your Childhood". I'll warn you, if you love nostalgia this will definitely crush some memories. 

So, it got me thinking about what I have been learning about story structure and plot. What made our childhood images so powerful was the effort that writers, artists and directors took to "suspend disbelief".  

Wait...isn't that what we are trying to do in our writing? 

Catherine Brady in her book Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction states," to think like an artist is to understand that story structure depends not on baldly advancing a literal conflict but on constructing a plot that articulates the exact parameters at the stories heart."  

Wow! That is a mouthful but think about it. What stories have you read that leave you changed and hungry for more? Why?

When I read a story, I don't want the author to come out and tell me what to think, just like a child I want to discover it myself.  It's how many of us are wired. Would the parables in the New Testament have as much impact if the true message was blatantly laid out?

Think about Faulkner and Munroe, their ability to use literal action to build the tension of the bigger story is epic! There are, of course many more that use this artistic scaffolding, invisible to the reader. It is only at the climax of the story do the questions that the tension aroused make sense. It's magic, a sleight of the hand.

What magic have you read lately?


  1. Good point! You hear all the time, especially for YA and MG books, that you just need to leave the preaching out. If there's a message to get - find it on your own. Libba Bray's "Going Bovine" had a message to find and it was a fun, twisted ride getting there! :)

  2. So where is the balance between telling the reader what to think and not telling the reader enough about what's going on in the main character's minds?

  3. @Donea Going Bovine...totally. I loved that.

    @Angela Balance, good question. I think it is even more difficult with middle grade than YA. However, you would be surprised how many 12 and 13 year olds are able to draw connections without having it spelled out for them. I'm not sure I've succeeded so I just keep trying.


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