The purpose of structure

I was just heading to bed but wanted to read a little bit more from my Imagine book before I did and I got caught.

In this one section, the author is writing about how the structure of poetry affects the creativity of the writer:

Just look at poets, who often rely on literary forms with strict requirements, such as haikus and sonnets. At first glance, this writing method makes little sense, since the creative act then becomes more difficult. Instead of composing freely, poets frustrate themselves with structural constraints.

But that’s precisely the point. Unless poets are stumped by the form, unless they are forced to look beyond the obvious associations, they’ll never invent an original line. They’ll be stuck with clichés and conventions, with predictable adjectives and boring verbs. And this is why poetic forms are so important. […] the difficulty of the task accelerates the insight process.

Wow. That’s fascinating. When I was young – pre-teens, maybe – I wrote my own poetry, but it wasn’t structured into any form I could name (mostly because I couldn’t ever remember all the different rhyming schemes). Yet it did have structure; I rarely wrote free verse. It never occurred to me that by confining my poetry to a certain structure, I was actually stimulating my creativity. Looking back though, I can see that it did.

I don’t write much poetry these days, but these paragraphs still stood out to me because lately I’ve been feeling constraints on my writing and a lot of those constraints stem from the expectations (structure) of the genre I’m writing in. I’ve decided I need to shrug them off by “forgetting” what genre I’m writing in just so I can get out whatever my story is and it’ll work or it won’t.

These paragraphs make me wonder if I shouldn’t keep trying to work within the structure/expectations of my genre after all…

Nah, probably not.

Something to think about though. Do you feel that the structure and expectations of your genre help your writing or constrain it? I’d love to know.

Okay night all, and happy writing.


About thewritingblues

I'm a writer working on a YA dystopian novel and blogging on my progress - or lack thereof - and other cool writing stuff.
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3 Responses to The purpose of structure

  1. Vivian says:

    An interesting question. I’m writing epic fantasy, so my constraints are not what they would be in a mystery or romance, though there are constraints. They are world building and of course the structure all stories must have in three acts, plus each character’s arc or journey. I see these genre rules as the framing of a house. They are the beams and studs in the walls that the writer covers with plaster and tile.

    In my epic, I have worked hard on my world building to make sure I don’t break my own rules. Everything must be plausible within my world’s rules. Yet, just yesterday, halfway through my rough draft, I found I may have broken a ‘rule.’ Or at least interjected confusion for the reader.

    Since my epic is not your typical dwarves, elves and fairies, I have the challenge of introducing a new species to the reader. One of the ‘rules’ for doing this is adding a human interpreter – Harry Potter was the human interpreter in his series; Gandalf introduced us to hobbits first, and so on. My other challenge is that I don’t want the story to be about humans, but instead, my made up race.

    My dilemma and ‘broken’ rule? The character I chose for the human interpreter is the WRONG one. His arc and journey are so intertwined with my main character he threatens to steal the show. Worse, my epic will appear to read like a romance, the POV switching back and forth between my main character, a female, and him, a human male.

    This really sucks.

    All my beta readers love this human character in my story – it’s pretty hard to dislike the ubiquitous character of a down and out captain. Guys want to pal around with him, and gals want to sleep with him (switch that around for gay readers).

    Now I have to dump all his scenes and rewrite him as a secondary character with my MC POV. Which means I have to rewrite her scenes, too.

    PLUS, I have to develop a secondary character into the human interpreter, make them a POV and give them a primary arc. Rats.

    But there you have it. I focused too much attention on the major rule of my genre – world building. I lost sight of the rule on how and who to choose as POV characters for a story. In a sense I broke a storytelling rule that made may have made my book cross over into what could be confused as the romance genre. And my story is definitely not a romance (not meant as a belittlement to the romance genre!).

    Now back to your original question: Do structure and expectations of genre fiction help or constrain my writing?

    My answer is yes. To both!

    I am frustrated I need a human interpreter. I could write my story without one, but seriously limit my audience to those select geeks – like me – that love strange world building along with a good plot. I have felt this ‘rule’ has constrained my plot and story. Although, it may not be so bad. This ‘rule’ has forced me to expand my plot, to broaden my world and really made me grow as a writer. I’ve had to do more research and weave these human characters into the world. And making my book more accessible to readers is not just a sales thing. We all want folks to read what we write, otherwise why bother?

    Thanks for the thoughtful post and inviting comment. Sorry this is long winded, but I suppose I needed a shoulder to cry on.

    Happy writing to you and all. I certainly need the encouragement!

  2. thewritingblues says:

    That really sucks, Vivian, I’m sorry. But yeah, that’s a great example of how the expectations of a genre can constrain you. I know you’ll find the best way to portray that character; he does sound great but I can understand your concern that he’ll “steal the show.” That’s hard. It kind of goes along with the “killing your babies” thing – that the parts you love most are usually what needs to be cut. Sucks.

    Thank you for sharing all this. My struggle has been more around what can I include or not include and still have it in the genre. I’ve been feeling that constraint ever since both an editor and agent told me it wouldn’t work as a YA dystopian if I kept a certain element in. Now I second-guess everything and think I’ve just been playing it safe which has caused my writing to dry up. Eek.

    We’ll get through it! Thanks for responding!

  3. Pingback: The Next Writing Challenge?!? « Real Poetry

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