From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:
Template is an ambiguous term in writing. It can refer to a writer’s personal style sheet used when developing a story, tools for brainstorming, or worksheets to figure out various plot and story arcs. However, it can also refer to an exacting form that promises the perfect story by following blindly along.
When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.
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Cooking is a forgiving skill. If the recipe calls for half a cup of tomatoes and you like tomatoes and put in a whole cup, odds are the meal still turns out yummy. But baking is hardcore. Add too much salt and your dough fails. Whip cream too long and it turns to grainy mush.
Writing is not dissimilar. Great stories contain similar elements, but how we mix them results in completely different tales. When we treat writing like an exact science, with every beat measured to the page and every major turning point exactly the same, the story suffers.
Instead of a delicious mental meal, we get generic packaged cookies. They might not be terrible, but they don’t make you want to eat more than one, and they taste like dozens of other bland, generic cookies on the shelf.
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The danger of writing templates is that instead of finding the right details for the story we’re trying to tell, we’re looking for details that fit a particular template at a particular time. We think, “This is when something has to die,” and twist ourselves into knots forcing it in. Or we think we need an emotional character arc when no arc is needed. We add mentor characters who have no business in the story, and rely on cliched characters to fill roles a checklist tells us we need.
When we’re cooking a novel, those literary ingredients are mixed to flavor the story in the way we want to tell it. But when we’re baking with a template, we’re adding ingredients exactly as the recipe states, even if the story suffers for it. Templates far too often force us to bake a cake when we really want to make a scone.
When you understand how to tell a compelling story, you know what aspects of storytelling to use to create the desired emotional response from your readers. You pick and choose the details, beats, and turning points that serve your story, and ignore the aspects that don’t.
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The difference between story structure and a writing template is this:
- Structure uses proven story constructions that humans have used since stories began.
- Templates suggest the only way to write a novel is to follow an exact plan to the letter.
Using a structure that suits your personal storytelling style to help keep you focused and give you a foundation on which to build a story is a good thing. It’s a tool, nothing more.
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog