For those of you familiar with the laborious art of sentence diagrams, do not be alarmed. This post is not about grammar. However, sentence diagrams are an interesting way to look at the scale and dimension of how, like sentences, stories are mappable things as well. But let me be clear: We will not be doing any sentence diagramming. Come out from under your chair - this is a safe place.
|A not-so-simple sentence diagram|
Anyway, one thing that it took me a few decades to appreciate was not how the diagramming process works - nobody cares - but rather how a full dissection of a story bears a striking resemblance to the map of a story. A story, much like a sentence, as basic parts that structurally relate to each other, and to understand the story we should be able to map it out, so to speak. We should know our main character - the subject - and the who, what, where, when, and why of them - descriptors. We should have an idea of how each supporting character relates to our hero - subordinate clauses - and we should definitely have a feeling for how this story unfolds and how these characters interact (verbs and prepositional phrases).
If you want to write a story, lay out (in your head) a simple map of the character and any supporting cast; the smaller the story, the smaller the map. Put down your who, what, where, when, and why, and note how these parts go together. This should be your playbook for any direction that story goes. Furthermore, if you have written a story and some part doesn't seem to fit, see where that part lands on the map. Chances are, it's not connected in the way you thought, or at all, and you can just write it out.
See, I told you. No sentence diagramming. You just get to map your stories instead. Enjoy!
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