Yeah, I know. I preach structure like a crazy man on a street corner.
And it’s incredibly important that your story has a clean structure, but like someone once said, structure is the glass into which you pour your wine. At the end of the evening you talk about the wine, not the glass. If you’re talking about the glass, the wine had to be forgettable, and as a writer, the last thing you want to produce is a forgettable story.
Larry Brooks, Syd Field, Blake Snyder and John Truby all talk about structure. The Hero’s Journey is all about structure. All of these (and more) structures all follow a very similar path.
And one day I’ll post a comparative analysis of the many “different” structures espoused and demonstrate how they are all essentially the same. (Teaser: Snyder’s “catalyst” is Brooks’ and Field’s “inciting incident” and Truby’s “inciting event”. All of them have a midpoint that changes the protagonist’s goal, and the third act is proceeded by an apparent defeat.)
But the structure needs to hide under the story. And the story needs to have characters who grow, dialog that sings and, most of all, a premise that makes the reader say “why didn’t I think of that?”.
Learn structure, then forget about it. Once it’s ingrained in your writing it needs to stay in the periphery. Don’t force your inciting incident to be at the 10% or 12% or 8% mark; have it organically occur somewhere in the first 10 – 15% and make it believable.
And if that is organic and believable, then your first plot point (Snyder’s “Break into two” and Truby’s step 9 of his 22 steps – “first revelation and decision: changed desire and motive”) will be organic and believable. It better be, or your readers won’t forgive you – and won’t make it to the midpoint.
The most important part of the story, and the part you as a writer should spend the most mental effort on, is the premise.
Without a compelling premise your perfect structure won’t get read. Or if it does, it won’t be memorable.
Sure, you need a heroic hero and a complex villain and clean, pacey prose, but all of these elements without a compelling premise gets you to 80% at best.
So learn the structure – pick one that resonates with you – and then forget about it. Work on a compelling premise and go from there.