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Jeff VanderMeer Wants You To Think About Structure

Did you know science fiction writer Jeff VanderMeer had a book about writing? I definitely did not.

He recently spoke with Paris Review about the (years old) work and about his thoughts on what makes good writing. One thing that I found fascinating was that, to him, a good story is what is being told but also the way in which it is presented. That’s architecture, as some call it, but the simpler way of looking at this is structure.

He breaks this down in a really interesting way that downsizes a major part of my MFA into a paragraph.

I always go back to structure. I think more and more of structure as the scaffolding a writer needs in their mind to write a story or novel. So it may fall away in the end as a kind of personal construct, or it may be the actual structure of the novel. But it provides a framework or focus – it often gives a character a space to move through or inhabit. Unlike plot, structure, to me, can never become divorced from character because it is to some extent the negotiation between author and character that creates structure…But just as important, the more structure I absorb personally, the more different ways I can allow the uncanny and the weird to manifest in my fiction. Some kinds of suspension of disbelief or engagements with the monstrous or the sublime will simply not work if confined by certain kinds of structures. So in a sense, I’m constrained by the kinds of stories I can tell if I don’t keep analyzing structure.

This is so interesting! Not only is structure a means of mirroring meaning (which we know, intuitively, as readers) but it also can turn up a sense of mood or feeling or being. It seems like you have designed a mental chair for readers to sit in to consume the work. It’s syntax on a grand scale.

Yes, this may be too “inside baseball” but I found this tip to be fascinating and important. Take it and run, writers.

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