Principles of Story Story Structure

Story Structure

Scenes or Acts?

Should you divide your play into acts, or just into scenes? It's really a matter of personal taste, as long as you recognize a few basic principles of play construction and why we have these divisions in the first place.

Virtually all plays, as much as we rail against the way some screenwriters have turned this into a cookie-cutter, divide into what has come to be called three-act structure. Here's where you get to impress your friends with your fancy verbiage:

Just as in screenwriting format, the middle act is the longest. Aristotle (384-322 BCE.), whose Poetics represented his collected observations on dramatic structure and playwriting based on the practice of Greek dramatists, is largely credited for three-act structure and has had long-lasting influence on playwriting. Want to really, really impress your friends? Tell them Aristotle didn't say anything about three Unities.

So what does this three-act structure mean? It means that no matter whether you label the divisions in your script acts or scenes, the arc of a good play will be roughly the same. Logically, though, if you're writing a play that is not meant to have an intermission, it makes sense simply to have scenes, whereas if you expect to have an intermission, put it between two acts. Of course, you could also put an intermission between scenes if you prefer. You have options. You even have options when it comes to structure. Read more about them in Chapter 17.

Write to be Read

One of the terms you'll hear a lot from me is "your reader." But plays are meant to be performed, not read - right? True, but before your play makes it to a stage, it will have to survive a small army of readers. For example, when I was reading for Robert Brustein's American Repertory Theatre, a play typically had to get through at least two script readers before it reached the head of new play development. If it got through him, it would go either to the literary manager or to the associate artistic director or perhaps to Brustein himself. That's a lot of reads, so it's crucial that you write not just to be performed, but to be read as well.


Developing your writing style

To be a good creative writer, it’s not necessary to have a vivid imagination, though that helps a lot. Many great writers of the English Language weren’t particularly creative, instead, they honed down their technique and style to garner interest in their stories. The greatest thing about creative writing is that it’s all yours (unless of course, you decide to plagiarize, which would completely defeat the purpose). But to be a good creative writer, the most important thing is practice.

There are four things to keep in mind while writing a story or play. These are:

1) Plot

2) Characterization

3) Dialogues

4) Theme

These are the basic things required to write a story, but the tackling of the concept is where many would-be writers lag behind.

Developing one’s writing style takes time, patience, and constant practice. Attempting too much, or writing too consciously may hamper your prose, not improve them. Here are a few ways you can improve your writing style and add color to your work.

1) Read: Reading can help improve your writing style immensely. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by a certain author’s writing technique, in fact, you can even take a certain style a few steps further.

2) Write: Without constant writing practice you can’t expect you creative writing skills to improve. Write constantly, even if you think your work is awful. It’s not necessary to stick to one genre even; experiment and innovate. There is a great possibility you’ll latch on to your individual style soon enough.

3) Be natural: Use the language and words that come naturally to you. Opening a thesaurus and taking our difficult words will not make your writing better; in fact it makes it pedantic and pretentious.

4) Be concise and clear: nobody knows what you want to say better than you do, and most of the time simple, clear sentences make more of an impact than heavy longwinded phraseology.

5) Avoid being clich├ęd: try to craft original new sentences. Steer clear from done-to-death wordings and metaphors. You can create interest in your writing by being spunky, creative, and bold in your word choice.

Creating Realistic Characters

You can create complex well rounded characters easily by asking yourself questions about what type of person you wish to create. For example, where is your character from? What does he/she do for a living? How old is your character and what family background is he/she coming from? Etc. Following is a list of questions you could ask yourself about your character.

1) What does he/she look like?

2) What is your character called?

3) How does your character deal with conflict and trouble?

4) Are there other people in your characters live? How does he/she relate to them?

5) What is the purpose of your character in this story?

Once you’ve got your characters figured out, you can turn to dialogue, and how you can create realistic, and interesting conversations between your characters.

Writing convincing dialogue

Writing good dialogue takes practice and observation. People tend to over dramatize, or understate, in either case leaving the reader with a sense of disbelief. Dialogues play a great role in bringing fiction to life, and if handled properly can help create a wonderful piece of art.

So how can you make sure your dialogue writing seems genuine and colorful?

By following these tips:

1) Listen to how people talk: You’ll rarely find a priest swearing, or an English Professor using slang. Observe the way people speak, and note down any interesting figure of speeches they might use. Good writers are often good eavesdroppers too.

2) Cut down on extraneous words and phrases: real speech doesn’t flow as smoothly as it seems to on paper, but most readers don’t care to read unnecessary words like “err…” “uh…” and “oh.” between dialogues.

3) Use action to highlight your dialogues: Remind the reader that the characters they are reading about are as physical (theoretically) as they are. ‘He said’ ‘she said dialogues get monotonous if they aren’t broken up with movement.

4) Don’t stuff in too much information: It should not be obvious that you are using dialogue to communicate information. In general, apply the three-sentence rule: give no character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once. Let the story unfold naturally.

Avoid stereotyping your characters through dialect: Not only is this offensive, it also challenges the reader’s intelligence. Just like all Irish men do not have red hair, similarly not all Englishmen says “Bollocks.”


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