Monday, July 13, 2009

Structure

structure--a process in writing where first the writer then the reader observe, then respond to, the placement of dramatic elements; a systematic arrangement of dramatic events; the order in which key story points are set forth with the expectation that they will reveal the writer's intent.

The decision Wilkie Collins made to deliver elements of the suspense thriller, The Moonstone, included his structural strategy for using multiple point-of-view narration from key cast members. Thus came an introduction to Franklin Blake as narrator, giving us background about the eponymous jewel, also revealing his love for Rachel Verinder, who is to be given the Moonstone on the eve of her birthday. Rachel, we are pretty sure, also is into Franklin Blake. When the fabled gem goes missing and all are shocked by the crime, Franklin Blake still narrating, Rachel turns on him, says she never wants to see him again. Stunned, he asks why. Now it is our turn to be stunned. "Because you stole the Moonstone," she tells him. "I saw you with my own eyes.) End of chapter.

Collins did not have to end the chapter at that point; he could have chosen at her structural approaches, but none would have so effectively created the desired drama Collins wished to present.

F. Scott Fitzgerald experimented fitfully with the narrative of The Great Gatsby until, at length, he stumbled on the decision to demonstrate the events through the eyes of Nick Carraway, a cousin of one of the principals, thus necessitating a change in structure.

Valerie Martin encountered her own structure with her novel, Mary Reilly, in which she rearranged the structure of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by recasting the story through the eyes of an immigrant Irish girl who had signed on as Dr. Jekyll's maid and who ultimately found herself vulnerable.

Hint: A useful way of looking at structure in a short story, novel, or play is the positioning of the discovery. In a mystery, one or more bodies should be discovered early on, with scenes engineered to suggest to the reader/viewer the potential for yet additional discoveries. In bedroom farce, the adventurous lover is discovered hiding under the bed or in the closet later in the proceedings.

Seemingly indistinguishable from design, structure may take on a life of its own if, as a concept,it is questioned by the writer during a stage of revision. The question for the writer to pose at that time is: Does the inherent energy of this work cry out for a different emphasis? Depending on the answer to the question, the writer is led by enthusiasm beyond the academic quibble of the difference in meaning between structure and design. The goal is to find the most resonant arrangement of characters, scenes, and issues within a particular story.

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