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How strict is a plot structure?

Forums Fiction Plotting How strict is a plot structure?

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  • #112824
    Tal
    @tal

    I’m currently plotting a short story in a three act format, but I’m having some trouble. For the push point, there isn’t really any event that would work within the context of the story and characters. So, how strict is a plot structure? Would it be a bad thing if I cut some points of the structure out?

    "My sword you shall have, but never in surrender!"
    Profile art by DeepRun

    #112826
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @tal Hi! I really like your profile pic. DeepRun is a great artist.

    Plot structure is kind of arbitrary. On the one hand it’s a tool to help us make something coherent, but on the other hand it helps us conform to what most people expect, usually subconsciously, in a story. My pet theory is that we as novelists are best served adhering to standard structures and to “show, don’t tell” because that’s what Hollywood trains people to want, but that really doesn’t change the fact that readers do want that stuff.

    The most basic rule is that your freedom within a standard structure is directly proportional to the trust your readers put in you. You’ll often hear “learn the rules before you break them,” but story structure is so subjective that it boils down to what your readers will let you get away with. When you’ve written ten books and have a fan base avidly scarfing down everything you publish, you have way more freedom to write a story where the first pinch point is either moved somewhere else or ignored, because your readers trust you’ll deliver something satisfying despite making a choice which their consumer instincts tell them is a rookie mistake.

    Regarding short stories in particular, know that you are rarely going to put an entire structure in the visible body of a short story. Very often there’s just not enough room. Many short stories begin at the climax or at least in the second act, and many more cut at the climax and leave the ending deliberately ambiguous. I think that’s called the Atlantic Ending, though I don’t remember who said it.

    Approaching it from completely the other side, don’t let labels hold you back. If things change in a way creating forward momentum between acts one and two, that’s at least good enough for a first draft. People will be happy to tell you if it doesn’t work when you ask for feedback.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #112838
    Tal
    @tal

    @taylorclogston

    Thanks for the advice! While I certainly don’t have an adoring fan base (I’m currently working on my first novel), I’m not planning to do anything more with this than share it with family and friends (and maybe put it out here). I’ll keep all that in mind.

    "My sword you shall have, but never in surrender!"
    Profile art by DeepRun

    #112867
    emily-maynard
    @emily-maynard

    Personally, I try to keep the 3-act plot structure in mind but don’t strictly follow it.

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