Addressing Story Structure Issues
To tell a story that a reader loves, you have to weave complex characters, arcs and themes together in a way that the reader experiences something that feels real. If either the structure or its execution is off, the reader can be left feeling confused or unengaged. As a result, the reader may not trust that the story is worth the effort of reading it. Let’s talk about how to identify and fix the structural issues that can crop up.
Define Your Structure
At Lynit, we break a story’s structure into two major categories:
Story Elements and Connections.
Writers know Story Elements. These are the characters, arcs, themes, setting, or motifs that are often summarized in a document or a scrap of paper. They are a detailed piece of the story. How you organize and thread these elements throughout your story creates the narrative. This is where Connections come in.
Connections represent the relationships between the various Story Elements as well as describe how various arcs are progressed throughout the story. We break them down into two subtypes: Static and Arc.
Static Connections describe the relationships between Story Elements that don’t change. For example, familial relationships, the effect that setting has on a particular character, or how a Motif influences a series of Events are all considered Static Connections. With these Connections, you can pick apart a complex character and define how everyone in their life views them. This allows you to detail complex interactions between your Story Elements and capture how they influence each other.
Arc Connections are used to identify which characters or events drive arcs forward and in which Chapters the progressions take place. Then within the Connection, you can describe in detail how the arc is specifically advanced. Additionally, each character comes with their own personal arc that only they can develop.
Lynit is built based on the story architecture of Story Elements and Connections. The framework forces a certain level of thought about how Story Elements fit together rather than simply defining them. As the story progresses, it becomes a web, and how it is connected is just as important as what the pieces are. The Connections between the Story Elements allow the outline to be visualized, and therefore patterns and structural issues become easier to spot.
Let’s Create a Sample Story
The story will be about a white woman rising to the top of an investment bank in the 1950s. We will start with some basic Story Elements.
We will create a few Static Relationships and Arc Connections in Lynit, but for the moment, the actual text written to describe those Connections aren’t important.
Visualize the Connections
Visualizations are a key Lynit feature that helps us to actually see and understand both the organization and the many types of relationships present as we write our stories.
Though at first this visual can seem complicated, key aspects of the story are already discernible. The Protagonist is the main character because they have the most connections of all the characters, the two major Arcs are clear, and the three small people connected to the Protagonist look like minor or throwaway characters because they aren’t connected to anything else.
Since this is a basic story, of course there are many issues with it, but let’s start with what sticks out the most visually to us. The addition of the Best Friends, Parents, and Black Male Coworker were quick ideas to add some depth to the story, but when looking at the structure of the outline, no follow through is present since they don’t contribute to the arcs and don’t have personal developments of their own.
After noticing these outliers, we have to consider how these characters are going to contribute to the story. We may decide to increase the number or type of connections, or consider removing them to give the story more focus.
When visualized, we are forced to interrogate the different parts of the story that aren’t well connected. Either we connect these parts more clearly and thoroughly throughout our outline, or have other strong reasoning for keeping these elements. If we don’t address it, later a reader may not remember who the best friend is, or wonder why the black character is important to the story.
Critique Your Story
Next, we need to test that the outline is structurally sound. At this point, things are theoretically aligned, but the text written in the Connections may not actually explain the relationships well or how arcs are progressed. A great way to test this is by looking at the biggest arc or character in your story, meaning the one with the most connections.
Try to write a three sentence (intro, middle, end) summary of the arc. If that is all the reader took away from your story, would that be enough? If not, include your second biggest arc and write the summary. If that still isn’t enough, continue adding arcs until you have a strong 3 sentence summary that summarizes your story.
The more difficult it is to prepare this summary, the more difficult it is for the reader to make sense of the story in their head. Additionally, if it takes more than four Arcs to capture the essence of the story, likely the story is missing a clear narrative that brings everything together. You can address this by creating a narrative arc that the other arcs feed into.
Another technique is to write chapter or scene summaries from the outline. It is less about what happens in terms of events, but more focused on summarizing all the connection descriptions that take place there. In a paragraph you should be able to lay out all the plot points, theme nuances, character relationship developments, and so on. These are the main takeaways the reader will have for each chapter. If there are other things from the written text that are missing, such as narrative concepts or motifs, then they need to be added to your outline. This is also a check for whether you are dumping too much info on a reader at a time.
Continually Improve Your Process
This framework gives the usual messy process a sense of order. Outlining, visualizing, summarizing and paying attention to the connections of the arcs and characters, helps even the most complex of stories fit together more cohesively. Writing is rewriting, but every process needs a plan. Using the tried and true writing techniques alongside these new age tips and tricks, you will speed up the move from first draft to the final one.
Put these strategies to use in your writing and see where they take you.
Michael Green is the Founder of Lynit. He started the company unofficially back in 2018 when he was deep in the trenches of editing his first book. He had 500 pages, a lot of characters, multiple plots, and many notes on possible changes. To make sense of everything, he created the first version of the tool. Then he realized that other writers might find value in it too and decided to share. Find out more at www.lynit.app