As a writer, it’s highly imperative that you study your craft from two different angles: so close that you can’t see anything other than your words and how they form, and at the same time, so far that you forget you’re even a writer.
Confused yet? Don’t worry. You should be.
Writing is a confusing process. You have to learn in a way that’s best for you. The best way to do that is to experiment with it. You have to play with words and sentence structure and writing techniques, and you have to decide how these work best for you and your story.
But wait a second… does that mean that your writing can change from story to story.
Well, to put it plainly: yes. Yes it can. But the details are what we’re going to explore in this article. There’s only so much that mindless exploration can tell you, and that’s why you have to make the switch. Instead of exploring with no proper sense of direction, you have to explore from a place of purpose.
Your writing can change style from story to story because of two magical words: structure genre.
Now, that doesn’t mean your voice changes. It just means that certain elements of your writing (pacing, language usage, sentence structure, literary devices) change based on your new surrounding; based on the slight differences of structural genre from one project to the next.
What Is Structural Genre?
Structural genre is split into three main categories: arch-plot, mini-plot, and anti-plot. We’re going to look into the first two in more detail, and after that, we’re going to discuss the idea of internal and external conflict, and what they mean for you and your story.
Arch-plot follows a protagonist through a journey against predominantly external antagonism. The events of the story follow a linear pattern. There is a definite shift in the MC’s life—it is wildly different by the end of the story (whether overcoming the conflict or not).
Mini-plot follows a protagonist (or multiple protagonists) through a journey of internal conflict/antagonism. As opposed to external conflicts to overcome, mini-plot tends to focus more on the MC’s emotions/internal wiring. There’s something within that they must overcome.
The main difference between arch and mini is the external/internal element. Think of them as commercial vs literary. Arch-plot is where most commercial books fall. Mini-plot is where most literary fiction resides.
A Brief Example
The protagonist is a prosecuting attorney, and the reader is introduced to him before they’re introduced to anyone else. In the opening chapter, we’re thrown right into his active case. There’s this real scumbag killer who has been getting away with his crimes trial after trial, and our protagonist is willing to give up his life to ensure this changes.
This is his external conflict. It’s a physical thing for him to fight against and conquer.
Now, a little later in the book, we discover that his younger sister was murdered when they were walking home from the park together, and he fled the scene instead of trying to save her. He was only young, but this has stuck around to haunt him. He needs to catch this guy not only because it’s his job, but because he feels as though he must. He needs to do it for his past self. He needs to do it for his dear sister.
This is his internal desire; the internal emotions that he must overcome in order to reach the desired end result.
Notice how they’re both linked to the external desire? In a lot of cases, the two are very closely linked, and that is done for two reasons. One: it makes the story easier to invest in (from a reader’s point of view). And two, it makes things easier to keep track of (from a writer’s point of view).
What Do These Things Mean For You?
A lot of things.
If you’re writing a story that is more of an arch-plot, your writing style will change to suit this genre. You can’t write a great book for a commercial audience if you follow the style and structure of literary fiction. Choosing to focus more on your protagonist’s external plot likely means that your content genre is more often than not associated with commercial fiction.
A good arch-plot story needs to place great focus on reader engagement. No matter what the plot is, or how it ends up, you have to keep the reader wholeheartedly invested. It’s no good having them halfway, or three-quarters… they have to be all the way there.
If your reader doesn’t believe in the character’s journey, and want them to overcome this external conflict and achieve their conscious desires just as much as the character himself does, then you’ve failed at writing an arch-plot. It’s that black and white.
The same applies with mini-plot.
You can’t write great literary fiction if you place too much focus on the external actions and not enough on the beauty of the human state. Literary fiction is a whole different ballgame. It still needs external conflict, just in an entirely different way.
It’s not there in literary fiction to serve as the reader’s main point of interest, it’s there simply to give them something solid to keep track of. The real focus is placed on the character’s deep-rooted conflict – a subconscious desire that they absolutely must achieve – and a the commentary of humankind that comes with this conflict.
Commercial fiction (arch-plot) is action and impact-driven, forcing the reader to focus more on the live events and exciting plot lines. Literary fiction is often a metaphor for something much deeper.
The Same, But Different
No matter what kind of story you choose to write, one thing’s for certain: you must write from a place of love and interest. If you try to cough up a great commercial thriller, but are more into exploring the ways in which humans have evolved into self-loving sociopaths through internal dialogue and metaphor, then you’re probably going to lose. And vice versa.
It comes down to being real with yourself – both as a human and a writer. You have to do the things you love, and have to move through your life and your career in a way that maps to those things.
Don’t write something because you think it’s cool. Write it because your heart can’t beat if you don’t.
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