If you’ve written anything of length, you no doubt understand the debate between “planners” and “pantsers.” On one hand, who wants their outline to dictate every beat, sentence, paragraph, and more?

On the other hand, who wants to suffer the unbelievably painful realization in the last few chapters that their story is DOA due to a lack of planning?

Whatever side you’re on, there’s an important lesson here. 

Story structure is still vital to the story. 

No arguing allowed.

Boom. Done. Bottom line.

If you don’t want to plan your story, at least plan the story structure.

And if you don’t want to write your book without some idea of where you’re going, work on your story’s structure first.

What is story structure? 

The structure of the story is kind of like an outline, but one that has a set framework, guidelines, and goals. It’s like a little outline on steroids — it not only lets you see your book “at-a-glance,” it also helps you conceive of, plan, and work out the kinks and plot holes in your story — before you start writing.

Best of all, it helps you formulate your story arc: that elusive, “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” thing that all writers know about but few actually put into play regularly — or well.

Over at StoryFix.com, Larry walks writers through story structure through his idea of the “Six Core Competencies.

I’ve read his first book, Story Engineering, and am working through Story Physics, the follow-up, and let just say: I’m a fan.

Another great tome to pick up on these subjects is K.M. Weiland’s Story Structure (not yet available, but I’m special so I’ve read it!).

The point is, whether you want more creative freedom than what an outline seems to be able provide, or you want the rigidity and foresight of having all the pieces in place before you dive in, the thing you shouldn’t ignore — no matter what — is your story’s structure.

If you ignore structure, people will ignore your story.

Need an example?

(*Nick considers pulling out example after example of crappy, nonsensical stories that have no structure*)

Let’s look at Hollywood:

David Hollis, the head of distribution for Disney, tells TheWrap regarding the massive flop of The Lone Ranger:

“The frustrating part for us is that we had all the ingredients here. You take a classic franchise, team the world’s most successful producer, an award-winning director and the biggest movie star in the world and you think your chances of success are pretty good. But we just didn’t make it work.” (original quote)

What’s so funny to me is that he’s completely missing the point — sure, those things (great direction, production, acting, etc.) can all help, but without a great story, presented in a properly-structured way, your story is probably going to fail.

Did The Lone Ranger have great direction? Check.

Great acting? Check.

Great studio behind it? Double-check.

…And much more going for it? Quadruple-check. 

But did it properly structure its story in the 3-Act Play (actually 4 acts, but that’s for another day) style, using the right high- and low-points throughout, spaced evenly enough to sell the story?

NOPE.

I know because I watched it — all 2+ hours of the grueling, almost-there-but-oh-wait-aw-that’s-not-how-it-should’ve-happened story. The characters are strong, but aren’t allowed to really shine, and the settings are flawless but don’t get the right kind of attention.

All because of bad structure.

So go fix your story’s structure.

If you need help, I’m going to be opening a course on this stuff soon, called Write A Novel Now. It’s open for trials (only $7/month, first month free, yada yada), so go check it out!

Also, let me know what you think of this stuff — do you want more? Less? Want me to shut up altogether? Leave a comment below!