Writing Is A Bad Habit: Fingerpainting Prose a.k.a. Irregular Story Structure

Good day, my literary foodies!  I’m sure we’re all familiar with typical story structure.  If you need a refreshing, this is following a story from its chronological beginning and then progressing through the events of the plot through to the conclusion.  Simple, basic, but almost always reliable.  The old stand-by of storytelling!  However, there are a variety of other interesting ways to structure and tell a story.

Another classic that most, if not all, should already know is in medias res.  This is the technique of starting a story not with its beginning, but at some point in the middle of the plot.  Why would you do this?  Well, a good reason may be to hook the reader, by presenting them with some exciting or dramatic scene, especially if what would be the usual starting place begins at a slow, potentially uninteresting point.  This way, you invest the reader in your plot immediately, satisfying them enough to let you go through the slower points of the story.  The potential pitfalls, of course, is that you may confuse the reader by throwing them into a situation without the proper exposition, or by choosing a scene that either doesn’t truly invest the readers or winds up being irrelevant to the main plot.

One technique I have seen done both great and horrible is the ‘book-within-a-book’.  Though not confined simply to books, this technique involves the inclusion of media in the fictional world you’re creating as part of the main story/plot.  Most often, this is another book being read/written by one of the characters in the main story, providing insights on characters, plot, or the world in a non-standard fashion.  You may also see this done with movies, television, poetry, and song.  This technique can provide some fascinating insights into the world and the characters, but has its own risks.  If overdone, this extra media might overshadow the main plotline, either in space or by presenting a more engaging story.  It’s important to vet this technique carefully, especially for relevance to the characters and plot.  If it doesn’t add to the story, don’t include it!

Another story structure, which could be considered a more advanced version of in medias res, is a non-linear timeline.  While in medias res uses one scene out of order, a non-linear timeline plot may have any number, even all, of its scenes presented out of chronological order.  They could be arranged in any number of systems, or even randomly.  Possibilities include two parallel timelines separated by many years (such as a timeline moving in the Renaissance and one moving in modern times, cutting between the two as the plot progresses), a plotline that moves first forward until a certain point where it then backtracks from another viewpoint, or any number of other arrangements.  This technique can create some fascinating works, really involving the reader as they puzzle out the order of events and the interactions between the scenes.  The problem is an obvious one, simply that it can become more complicated than its worth, creating rampant confusion and frustration by your readers if you do not still make the scenes into a cohesive whole.

These are just a few examples of non-standard story structure to experiment with.  There are many more and we shouldn’t be afraid, as authors and creators, to experiment with the range of options we have available.  Just take your time and be ready to leap back from the pitfalls that may open up at any time!  Remember, it’s never too late to change something that doesn’t work , well, at least until you’ve published.

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

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