Friday, October 2, 2015

Book Review: Story Trumps Structure, by Steven James

Award winning novelist, Steven James, explains how to trust the narrative, organic, process to make your story believable, compelling, and engaging. He debunks the common myths that holds writers from creating their best works by focusing on what lies at the heart of the story  such as tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, and discovery rather than being tied down to plot templates and formulas. Story Trumps Structure received the award for Best Storytelling Resource from Story Telling World. 

Story Trumps Structure is my writing Bible. Finally, someone validates organic writers, aka Pantsers, like me. This book hooked me from the very beginning with his Ceiling Fan Principle which improved my writing in nano seconds. James encourages his readers to break free of the rules that have been beaten into them at conferences and through writing books. He never says the rules are bad, but for some writers they are paralyzing.

I remember a lady who began her novel with her character in a basement. But because of the rules she kept rewriting the same scene over and over. Her character never got out of the basement and her novel was never finished. This kind of inertia is the problem James addresses and he gives tips on ways to let our stories flow from our innermost being without boundaries.

This is one of the most user friendly, practical, and enjoyable books on writing I've ever read. Have you ever been told novels are either character driven or plot driven? I have. James debunks these labels and states that all novels are tension driven. They may be character or plot centered but tension drives the story. That information alone made a huge difference in my writing. The chapter on characterization titled Status was also an amazing enlightenment. 

No matter how many times I read this book, I always see something new and wonderful. True, some things I already knew, but James' approach brings a fresh perspective. I highly recommend this book.

Steven James is a national bestselling novelist whose award-winning, pulse-pounding novels continue to gain aid critical acclaim. Suspense Magazine, who named James' book, The Bishop, their book of the year, says he "sets the new standard in suspense writing." Publishers Weekly calls him a master storyteller at the peak of his game. 

With a Master's Degree in Storytelling, James has taught writing and storytelling around the world and is one of the seven Master CraftFest instructors at ThrillerFest.

When Steven's not writing or speaking, you'll find him trail running, rock climbing, or drinking a dark roast coffee near his home in eastern Tennessee.

Note: Steven James will be the Keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc (OWFI) writer's conference May 12 - 14, 2016 in Oklahoma City, OK at the Oklahoma City Embassy Suites. More information will soon be available at:

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  1. I more of an intuitive writer, but the idea of structure--of where certain things should occur in the manuscript--was always in my mind. Actually, I just began playing around with outlining, too, and I'm amazed to see that I like it. My outlines are just loose enough to not feel constrictive.

    I never thought I'd change my way of writing. Believe me, I'm surprised too!

  2. It all comes down to our different personalities. Earth and Water people like and need structure. Wind and Fire people need freedom. I’m both a Wind and Water person. I like the freedom to write what I see playing in my head. My Water side likes “banks” to keep me moving forward and it from that part of me that I clean and sharpen what my Wind side wrote. ☺ My frustration has been that most writerly books are written for the earth and water people. Finally, someone wrote for us "Windy and Fiery people! :) And again, Steven doesn’t say structure is bad. His encouragement is to not paralyze your story with structure. And for pantsers, too much structure does exactly that. ;)

  3. Interesting. Great ideas. Thanks for posting this. I understand where trying to adhere to all the rules at once would be stifling. As they say, turn off the editor during the first draft, but I agree with both Lindas, a river without banks just floods.

    I found it's best for me to just write, keeping a loose eye on a simple three act story outline (now that I actually understand what that is ;) ) and then tweak as needed during the editing phase. In other words, I like Linda As example of a river with banks to direct the flow. :)

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