Everything that you write has a structure, a shape. Just like a house can elegantly capture the light and become an expression of the architect’s personality, a book also follows certain patterns. Jane Alison believes that writing has a visual quality to it. Words have texture. We can feel the scene that is described. We travel through the words on the page. The dramatic arc that Aristotle talked about does not do enough justice to the possible shapes that a narrative can create.
“Beginning, middle, and end; complication, change, denouement. Two thousand years later, in The Technique of the Drama, Gustav Freytag examined Greek and Shakespearean tragedies and drew a graphic like the pattern Aristotle described, showing the parts of drama: introduction, rise, climax, fall, and catastrophe—Freytag’s famous triangle or pyramid.”
But there are more shapes in literature, take Italo Calvin’s crystalline element in Invisible Cities or what Gottfried Benn called an orange-shaped narrative. W. G. Sebald’s writing is anything but linear.
“Patterns other than the wave, though, are everywhere. Here are the ones Stevens calls “nature’s darlings.” Spiral: think of a fiddlehead fern, whirlpool, hurricane, horns twisting from a ram’s head, or a chambered nautilus. Meander: picture a river curving and kinking, a snake in motion, a snail’s silver trail, or the path left by a goat grazing the tenderest greens. Radial or explosion: a splash of dripping water, petals growing from a daisy’s heart, light radiating from the sun, the ring left around a tick bite. Branching and other fractal patterns: self-replication at different scale made by trees, coastlines, clouds. Cellular or network patterns: repeating shapes you see in a honeycomb, foam of bubbles, cracked lakebed, or light rippling in a pool; these can look like cells or, inversely, like a net.”
Go Beyond the Narrative Arc and approach a more innovative organic approach to story creation.