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What is Structure in Writing and How Does it Affect Meaning?

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  • 0:01 What Is in a Story?
  • 2:24 How Does Structure…
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define the role of structure in literature. From there, we will look at the different ways to structure fiction and how it affects the meaning.

What is in a Story?

Have you ever drawn a picture? Or learned a new dance? When you draw a picture, you start first with the outline of the image. From there, you would add darker lines, more colors, and create a finished piece. When you learn a new dance, you first learn the small steps, and then you begin to add more and finish them to create a complete dance.

When an author writes a story, he/she takes the same steps. There is first a framework, and then the author adds more and creates a finished work from this framework.

What makes a story interesting? We would all answer this question a bit differently. We may say it is the characters or the setting. Some may prefer if there is a mystery or just something unique in the writing. It could even be the author's writing style and details.

However, all of these elements really rely on one single strong element: the structure of the writing. What is structure? Structure is how the story is organized. It is the framework of the story. You can think of structure as the outline of the story or the map of its construction.

When an author writes a story, he or she begins with the framework of the story. Within this framework, we would also find the plot, setting, characters and theme. All of these literary elements rely on structure.

Plot is the main events of the story. When developing the structure of the story, an author would want to tell the events in some sort of order. This could be the beginning, the middle, or even through flashbacks.

Setting is the time and place where the story occurs. Characters are the people in the story. Finally, the theme is the main message, the central idea, of the story.

When an author develops a story, the structure is what holds all of these ideas together. Through the structure, the author is able to fully develop the plot, the characters and their actions, and lead us to the lesson of the story.

Most short stories follow a narrative structure. In a narrative structure, we see a plot introduced, complications or a crisis, a turning point, and a resolution.

How Does Structure Affect Meaning?

In order to find the meaning in writing, you should look for the theme. The theme is created through the structure. How the author organizes his or her work will affect how we interpret it. Because all elements relate to the structure, we should spend time studying the plot, how ideas are organized, how characters are introduced, what changes, and what is resolved in the story.

For example, I am sure we are all familiar with Little Red Riding Hood. The common structure of the story (the organization) is Little Red Riding Hood is visiting her Grandma. Now, let's expand this idea using the steps of a narrative structure.

First, we see a plot introduced with our characters. We have Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma, the wolf, and the hunter. At the beginning of the story, we are also given the main plot, which is Little Red is told to deliver food to her sick Grandma.

Next, a complication is introduced. The wolf sees Little Red in the woods and runs ahead of her to disguise himself as the Grandma.

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