Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Basic Structure Of Writing

This is it, the most basic information you need to write a story of any kind, in any genre. I am referring to the foundation of writing: the structure. If you don’t understand this, your writing is going to suffer. In fact, it will probably be unintelligible.

I’ve tried to make this guide as simple as possible, as I want it to be accessible to writers of all ages. However there are numerous books on the subject which go into much more detail. I recommend searching for them at your local library and reading up on this more if you are not 100% certain you understand.

1. The sentence.

The sentence is the smallest building block in writing. In good writing every sentence should impart some new information to the reader. One of the hardest, but most useful things you will learn, is how to cut sentences you don’t need.

To have a proper sentence you need a noun and a verb. ‘Mountains dance.’ ‘Skies echo.’ ‘Monkeys sing.’ ‘Bob dies.’ ‘She jests.’ all of these are complete sentences. I wouldn’t say they are good, or even very logical sentences, but they are complete.

‘Rolling, bouncing, falling; tumbling over and over.’ This example is not a sentence. There is no noun. Stick the words: ‘He fell’ in the front and it’s a sentence. However ‘He fell’ can be a sentence on its own; the rest is just window dressing.

You can use sentence fragments in writing if you feel they are critical. Some of the best authors use sentence fragments. However you have to have a good reason for it. Why are you using a fragment? Can you use a complete sentence without losing any meaning or atmosphere? If you can, I suggest you stick with complete sentences or you just look like an amateur.

2. The paragraph.

The paragraph is a group of sentences places together because they have a common idea. Paragraphs begin on a new line. In primary school I was taught a paragraph could be as few as two sentences, and as many as you liked. However keep in mind the layout of paragraphs makes reading easier, or harder, for your reader.

Huge blocks of text give most people a headache and should be avoided. This tutorial is carefully broken up into short paragraphs so it is easy to read on a computer screen.

Much like sentences, these rules can be broken. A single sentence on a new line can add emphasis and impact to an idea. However this is not a device to be overused as it is akin to ending every sentence with ten exclamation points. (!!!!!!!!!!)

3. Scenes.

A scene in a story is similar to a scene in a movie. It starts in one place and in one time and ends when you move to a different place or time. Scenes can move from one place to another with the characters; however a jump to a new place or time is a new scene.

What a scene tells the reader is more important than where it starts or ends. Scenes need a beginning, middle and a conclusion to make sense. Every scene in your story or novel needs to progress the plot. This is important; make a note of it somewhere.

4. Chapters.

In a nonfiction book, chapters are used to introduce a new topic; however in fiction they split book into parts to make it easier to read. For this reason it is a good idea to keep their length consistent. If you are writing from several perspectives the chapter break can be a good place to switch characters—however this can also be done with scene breaks. Chapters often finish at the end of a scene, though they may also end at a cliff-hanger to encourage the reader to start the next chapter.

A lot of people ask me ‘how long is a chapter?’ A chapter can be however long you want, but realistically the genre and target audience should be taken into account.

Young Adult books will have shorter chapters, probably between one thousand and three thousand words. I think four or five thousand words is a comfortable length for adult genres. However if you want to write chapters that are ten thousand words, go right ahead. If your chapters are extremely long or extremely short, be prepared for a publisher to ask you to change it.

It’s a good idea to finish a chapter in a place that compels the reader to pick up the book again. That doesn’t always mean dramatic cliff hanger endings, however avoid letting chapters end on emotionally vacant cords.

So there you have it: The structure of the novel. Now you have no excuse for sentence fragments, excessively long paragraphs, scenes that don’t go anywhere and chapters of inappropriate length.

I wish you many years of happy writing.

Copyright. Talitha Mitchell. 2006.

Edited 2012.

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