Content, structure, and language work together. No one element can make a story work. Many writers use a series of steps—brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, editing, and proofreading—to juggle content, structure, and language. The order of each step is a matter of choice and fluctuates with story ideas. Here is my preference:
- To create content: brainstorm, free-write, draft a first draft
- To apply structure: outline first draft, then draft second draft
- To perfect language: revise, edit, and proofread
Content refers to the subject matter of a story.
- The who, what, when, where, and how of a specific idea.
- A character (the protagonist) finds himself in a difficult situation at a certain time and place and must deal with that situation.
- How the protagonist deals with the situation depends on the protagonist’s wants, character, and the nature of the obstacles he must overcome.
- Content provides the “story question or problem” that propels the protagonist through the plot and ultimately reveals a universal theme, a jolt, an epiphany, some small observance of life.
- Content evolves from a premise, notes, a rough draft, research, observation, plus the attitudes and concerns of the writer.
Structure refers to the basic organization of a story.
- Just as a play is divided into three acts, most stories have three main segments
- The opening (Act 1) gives a story focus and meaning by providing the premise, setting, and tone of the story as well as hints at the nature of obstacles the protagonist will face.
- The main body of the story (Act 2) focuses on the protagonist’s actions to resolve the story problem.
- The conclusion (Act 3) reveals the results of the protagonist’s struggle and infuses that struggle with meaning.
- Each segment of a story has a similar structure: the overall story as well as each chapter, each scene within the chapter, each beat within the scene
- Structure also involves other devices such as set-ups and pay-offs, sub-plots, and the shaping of structure specifically to content.
- Structure evolves from outlines, note-taking, drafts or a combination of the three.
Language refers the diction and style used to express a story’s idea.
- Diction refers the specific words that are chosen
- Style refers to how those words are combined, the order, the length of sentences and includes the use of literary devices such as metaphor, symbolism, and allusion.
- Grammar keeps writing clear and understandable.
- Language evolves from revision and rhythm.
Process is what brings these three basic components of composition together.
Writing is a Process. Yeah, it is!
Actually, the steps to the writing process bleed into each other like ink dropped from a leaky pen over one spot. The blotches don’t land in exactly the same place, but they seep beyond each other’s borders, and create a new kind of art.