Saturday, June 01, 2013

Story Structure -- Ridge Beam

Hi folks, I will spend the month of June sharing what I have learned about story structure in my writing journey. Here is a link to my previous series on this topic, covering five important structural components to story plots.  This month I will draw a series of analogies to building structure to help illuminate structural components of stories.

First up is the ridge beam. This seriously important beam connects the trusses of a roof. It's the beam the rafters connect to. It's basically the part of the building that brings us under one roof.  Stories need singular focus to work. In a way they need to bring our readers under one roof.  You will create this ridge beam for your story by understanding what your character wants. This one desire must be clear from the get go and all other desires must subordinate to it. It's a simple concept with satisfying results.

Some authors write characters that want too many things, like they have mommy issues, they want true love, they desire to have successful careers, they hunger for fame, etc.  The reader  has to look in so many directions as they take the story journey, and by the end of the book, they don't care. What is important is that the author chooses one ridge pole from these many desires and uses the rest as rafters.  Subordinate ideas to the main beam through your story and your readers will thank you. 

Another mistake is switching your main character's desire mid-stream. This breaks the roof over your story unless you are very careful  and resolve that desire and place a new one in place and stick to it.  Mostly desire switching just creates a mess. Proceed with extreme caution. Another huge problem is a character who just doesn't want anything. This story needs a roof to bring all those great ideas together. Dig into that main character's psyche and figure out what's going on. Your readers will rejoice.

HINT: If you can't easily communicate what your main character wants in a sentence or two, you don't know and need to figure that out.

Laser focus on the want of a character throughout a story rivets readers. It holds them in place within your construct  Your job as a writer is do whatever you can to not give your character what she wants, thwarting her desire, exploring the consequences of her desire, and finally letting your character obtain her deepest desire or not obtain it by uncovering the tragedy unfullfilled desire.

Trust your ridge beam and create powerful stories that readers will not wat to put down. Come back next week for more on story structure. I hope you find help here to craft stories for the ages.

Here is this week's doodle: Abstract #1

Finally a quote for your pocket

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world. Walt Whitman.


Candilynn Fite said...

I'm about 10k into a new YA story. My character, although rather a mess at the moment, is clear cut. Solid. Her dilemma is obvious, but as far as her one main desire, I'm not sure I've made it clear for the reader. One mistake I've made is dropping the readers into an intense action scene from the first line, not leaving the character even time to think straight. Now's the time to go back in and revise the beginning so the reader cares why she's in this particular situation. I need to give her a purpose. Otherwise, the reader will feel cheated, and I will fail to deliver a character the reader can root for or want to root for.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Molly. As always, enjoyed the visit.

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Candy, I don't think that an intense action scene is a bad place to start as long as it is the moment of change and you make the reader care. "Papa, where are you going with that ax?" This is an intense place to start but immediately the author creates that kind of tension of child seeing the parent doing something crazy. The sword sliced my best friend in half. I found the pool of blood, and my twin sister gasping for air... My opinion -- the action start really needs a universal reason for the reader to care and then it works. It also sounds like you have very cinematic vision...Just my thoughts.

I'm glad you found something useful.

Mirka Breen said...

I think of it as The anchor. No story without it.

MollyMom103 said...

Doodle lives in a bag with hundreds of others...

Hi Mirka, the anchor analogy totally works. In sewing I would call this desire the seams, in weaving, the warp, in the painting, the axis line...