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On Story Structure: Guiding Your Readers to the End

I’ve been talking about mazes all week, specifically how to design a maze from a blank page, and how the process of making a maze resembles good storytelling. I hope I haven’t lost you.

In yesterday’s post, I said the whole process boils down to three big principles:

  • Make sure your structure is intact (fill in all the plot holes)
  • Make sure it’s challenging, the easy answers hidden in the structure (after all, that’s what makes it interesting)
  • And make sure it’s solvable (with a plot that your reader can follow from start to finish)

Today I want to talk about that last one.

Provide an Unbroken Thread

See, even though your job is to provide all the decoration necessary to make a challenging maze (as it were), your job as a writer has one major difference from that of the mazemaker. When I made a great maze, the very last step was to turn it over to one of my friends and let him try to figure it out. He was all on his own. That was the point.

As a writer, once you’re finished building the structure, you change roles. You become more like Ariadne, the girl from Greek myth who inspired the illustration I used at the start of all this . She provided a simple spool of thread to the hero Theseus, before he entered the famous Labyrinth of Crete, and it was enough to let him find his way back out again. If not for her gift, the great hero’s story would have ended with him walking into the maze and getting lost forever.

Your job as a writer, once your draft is done, is to protect your readers from that very fate. Go back to your book, and review it start to finish. Make sure its structure is sound, make sure it’s got enough decoration to keep it interesting, but most of all, make sure there’s a single, unbroken thread to lead your reader from the entrance, all the way through the twisting corridors of your tale, and back out the other side safe and sound.

Offer Them a Way Out (Creative Writing Exercise)

And let’s practice that today! Right now! I’ve given you a handful of writing exercises recently, but it’s been a while since I’ve done a real story prompt.

Today I want you to write a scene. Make it 300-900 words, and let’s stick with the Greek Mythology motif: start it out in media rez (which is to say, in the middle of the action). From the opening line, your characters are already caught up in the most interesting part of the story.

Put them in a maze (literal or metaphorical). They’re trapped, their lives are on the line, there may well be monsters lurking down any wrong turn, and you’ve only got three pages to find them a way out (and make sure your reader follows along).

It’s a challenge, but then, a good writing prompt should be. Show us what you can do. Post your scene in the comments, or put it on your blog and give us a link. Either way, drop us a line.

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