January 17, 2018

Quotes on story structure

What writers and others say

“The key to a good story structure is to write a great beginning and a great ending and keep them close together.”
— Anonymous

“Men die because they cannot join the beginning to the end.”
— Alcmeon of Croton, a philosopher and teacher in the Pythagorean school quoted by Kenneth Atchity in A Writer’s Time

“As narratives, they felt defiantly shapeless and almost humorously static. They didn’t head toward a destination; they went down culs-de-sac, performing frequent U-turns and handbrake skids; and they waited in jams. In particular, they didn’t ‘end.’ They just stopped.”
— Martin Amis, author and critic, on Don DeLillo’s novels

“Text structure does have an important effect on learning. The better organized the text and the more apparent the structure to the reader, the higher the probability that the reader will learn from reading.”
— Bonnie Armbruster, Ph.D., professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Readers try to find a coherent model or interpretation of the text. When an incohesive text makes this difficult, readers spend extra time and cognitive energy to remediate the incohesiveness. They reread the text to search for the link, or they search through their memories to retrieve the connection, or they make an inference about a possible relationship. With this extra effort, mature readers may be able to form a coherent interpretation of the text.”
— Bonnie Armbruster, Ph.D., professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“The most important text characteristic for comprehension and learning is textual coherence. The more coherent the text, the more likely the reader will be able to construct a coherent cognitive model of the information in the text.”
— Bonnie Armbruster, Ph.D., professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Coherent text has a clear overall structure that establishes the significance of the ideas presented and has tight cohesive ties that bind the ideas together. Students will learn more important information from a textbook that emphasizes main ideas and asks questions about important understandings. ‘Inconsiderate’ text, [is] text that is neither conducive to learning in general nor to the learning of important information.”
— Bonnie Armbruster, Ph.D., professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“I’m a strong opponent of outlining. It’s deciding in advance what the story will be, and then just bolting the whole thing together like something out of a hardware store. Tortured transitions are the mark of an outlined story.”
— William Blundell, author, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing

“Comprehension and composition bear a reciprocal relation to each other.”
— Robert C. Calfee, Ph.D, professor of Education and Psychology at Stanford University

“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end; then stop.'”
— Lewis Carroll, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“Maybe because I went to Catholic school, I call outlines the O-WORD. In my mind the Outline looks something like this:









“My problem with the Outline is that I can’t figure out ahead of time what those little parts are going to be. But I CAN figure out the big parts, which are signified by the Roman Numerals. As in:

“I. How to write short by keeping a journal.

II. By reading short writing.

III. By analyzing the best examples.

“That is something I can work with. But I don’t call it an Outline, I call it a Plan.”
— Roy Peter Clark, author, How to Write Short

“In order to write something big, it really helps me to think of the constituent parts. What are the basic units or elements? What are the chapters? That helps with my research — filling up my chapter files. And it helps with my drafting — writing one chapter at a time.”
— Roy Peter Clark, author, How to Write Short

“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.”
— Joan Didion, American journalist, essayist and novelist

“When you get a story under way, refrain from interrupting the flow. Avoid digression. Don’t go parenthetical.”
— Dick Dougherty, city editor, Democrat and Chronicle

“Created in the old days of typography, the inverted pyramid crammed a story’s most important facts into the first few paragraphs — putting the large base of the pyramid at the top rather than the bottom. Less salient information dribbled down into the point of the pyramid, where it could be painlessly whacked off if a story ran long.”
— David A. Fryxell, former editor of Writer’s Digest

“Today, computers make it easy to trim excess copy from the top, bottom or anywhere in between. But many writers have yet to unlearn the inverted pyramid approach to building their stories. They still cram who, what, when, where and why into the first paragraph — sometimes the first sentence — creating an information overload that leaves readers gasping.”
— David A. Fryxell, former editor of Writer’s Digest

“Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design.”
— Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize-winning novelist

“The crafts of writing and carpentry are deceptively simple. The carpenter has to begin with a plan; the writer must begin with a thought. There must be at least the germ of an idea. Before the first board is nailed to the second board, or the first word connected to the second word, there has to be some clear notion of where we expect to be when we have finished nailing or writing.”
— James J. Kilpatrick, author, The Writer’s Art

“The catalog entries now had lengthy analytical essays and illuminating reproductions of other pictures, whether they related or not: a minimalist Agnes Martin might be accompanied by an illustration of the Mona Lisa, whose best connection to the picture in question might come under a TV game show category, ‘things that are rectangular.'”
— Steve Martin, author, in An Object of Beauty

“Shakespeare wrote his sonnets within a strict discipline, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhyming in three quatrains and a couplet. Were his sonnets dull? Mozart wrote his sonatas within an equally rigid discipline — exposition, development, and recapitulation. Were they dull?”
— David Ogilvy, “the father of advertising”

“God is in the structure.”
— Richard Preston, author, The Demon in the Freezer, quoted by Jack Hart in A Writer’s Coach

“Science is organized knowledge.”
— Herbert Spencer, English philosopher

“Organization is what you do before you do it, so when you do it, it’s not all messed up.”
— Winnie The Pooh
  • Hook ’Em With a Savvy Structure

    Our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent research.

    According to new studies by such think tanks as The Readership Institute and The Poynter Institute, inverted pyramids: 1) Reduce readership and understanding; 2) Fail to make readers care about the information; and 3) Don’t draw readers across the jump. In short, researchers say, inverted pyramids “do not work well with readers.”

    Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Denver on May 1-2, 2018At Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on May 1-2, 2018 in Denver — you’ll learn a structure that can increase readership, understanding and satisfaction with your message. Specifically, you’ll learn:

    • How to organize your message to grab readers’ attention, keep it for the long haul and leave a lasting impression.
    • Three elements of a great lead — and five leads to avoid.
    • How to stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget it).
    • Five ways to avoid the “muddle in the middle.”
    • A three-step test for ending with a bang.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Denver on May 1-2, 2018

    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Catch Your Readers workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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