Have you ever heard someone talk about the structure of a story or an essay? The structure is the elements that the writer uses to build it together into something that holds the writing together so that it makes sense and holds together. Did you ever think about how the structure of a story is a lot like the structure of a house? Houses have foundations, walls, windows, rooms, and a purpose or function for each part.
If all the pieces are put up well, the house will last a long time and be able to weather the storms of life. If things are just slapped together and not lined up well then it will collapse under a strong breeze. In a story we have the organization as a structure that holds everything together. The structure can be very formal or traditional, but it can also be very non-traditional, and even surprising. Structure can seem rather vague, so it might help to think of it in concrete terms. As you look at your writing, ask yourself –what is the organization, the plot, the characters—everything that works together to make the story or paper effective. The mental images created by your writing can be just as real and as powerful as a physical work of art.
That is why your structure is so important in building a complete unit. To really illustrate the power of taking the mental images and transforming them into physical entities a class in England’s Columbia University has a program called “The Laboratory of Literary Architecture.” In this program students take their favorite stories and physically build a structure to represent how they view it. The creations are made with everything from toothpicks to concrete and some really surprising, yet accurate structures result.
“Javier Fuentes interprets The Falls by George Saunders: The paranoia experienced by the narrator of Saunders’s open-ended short story is reimagined by Javier Fuentes in a structure designed to encourage a heightened sense of spatial awareness. The base is punctured in the same way that the climactic events towards the end of The Falls bring an abrupt end to Saunders’s stream-of-consciousness narrative, leaving the reader in a state of suspense. Photograph: Tony Cenicola/Eyevin” (Pericoli, 2013)
The leader of the workshop, Matteo Pericoli, has a web site that gives great details about the workshop and the results of what happens when students think deeply about the structure of a story and how it would translate to a physical entity. Continue reading “Striking Structure”