Obviously, it is useful to learn and practice different types of structure. Plot outlines are one type of structure. Character arcs are another. Story structures such as the Hero’s Journey are a third type of structure.
Structure is a way to organize our ideas into a logical progression. Structure helps writers relate to readers on a more universal level.
But structure, when used simply as a shortcut can become a lock on our creativity. Which may be why some people complain that structure is stifling.
Structure, when used with the Key of Reason, frees writers of this lock.
This Key of Reason is earned through knowledge and practice of structure until the writer understands structure not only on the mechanical level but also the essence and purpose of the chosen structure.
Once a writer understands the how and why of the structure, then the writer can safely vary the superficial details of the structure while still achieving that structure’s purpose and goals.
Approaching a structure in an unrestricted way does not mean that “anything goes”. When using a basic 3-Act structure, for instance, a writer might have a good reason to place part of the End or Middle as a prologue. Such a writer might be trying to shed light on what otherwise may seem like a mundane Beginning, for instance. However, a writer with a grasp of a 3-Act structure probably would still introduce in Act 1, complicate in Act 2, and have the big climax and wrap-up in Act 3. Because that writer understands the reasons for the sequence as well as ways to vary it without destroying the integrity of the structure.
During my time as a writer, I’ve never found another person’s approach that worked for me 100%. But by studying many structures beyond the surface level, I’ve modified several structures that work for me, my characters, and the stories I want to tell. I suspect that is – or will be – the same for you.
I suspect that the more structures you explore – outline types, ways to do character arcs, paths a story “should” take – the more frustrated you will get because none of them seem quite perfect. The “this is the only way” attitude spreads all too easily to writers who want organize their writing with some kind of structure. Using a particular structure should at no time turn you into a clone of others who use that structure. Every structure has its strengths. Keep these. Every structure has its weaknesses. Change these to meet your own needs. But use your Key of Reason so that when you change those perceived weaknesses, you do not also loose that structure’s strength.
In the end, it is how well YOU can apply various types of structure that really counts. Staying true to the structure just because that’s the structure imprisons your creativity every bit as much as no use of structure restricts your ability to most effectively convey your story to the reader.
The “key” to structure comes from understanding the intents of that structure. Using that key will release the lock of dogma and free both your creativity and your ability to reach readers.