I started this post several times.  I kept trying to get my hands around structure – to find a context in which to explain it.   Then I thought I would write about structure in terms of Aristotle’s Poetics.


But he’s already done that.

Then I thought, “I’m a playwright.  I should write about the changes in Act Structure.”

3 Acts

When I took my stepdaughter to Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park she was confused when the house lights came up at the end of Act Two because she thought the play was over – and it wasn’t a good ending.  She’d never been to a Three-Act show with two intermissions – a structure that has been phased out over the last couple of decades.  (Wait till I take her a Five-Act Shakespeare play!)  But since I’ve written a play that can be performed with or without an intermission I realized that structure is about more than how many bathrooms breaks or opportunities to buy M&Ms you have.

Then I pulled out Playwrighting Seminars 2.0 by Richard Toscan because I remembered he had a great diagram about structure.

play structure

But as I was reviewing the diagram I thought about Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  It doesn’t follow this structure.  Neither does his play Play.  Or probably anything Caryl Churchill has written.

So I began researching.  And examining plays I like.  And examining my plays.  And a funny thing happened.  A horrible thing, really.  I found myself unable to write.  For most of this month.  I would beat my head against the wall and scream, “How does this line build structure?”

As I continued to try to make sense of this structure issue, I kept going back to Google.  (After all, I wasn’t getting any writing done.)  Finally I stumbled across a great article about outlining vs. organic writing by novelist Steven James.  And I realized that I find my characters, put them in the situation I have created and let them go.  Sometimes I have a good idea of where the story is going, sometimes I just want to explore what these people would do and find the story as they do.  Sometimes I have to remember what the story’s about and let go of some of the tangents.  Sometimes the story is in the tangents.  But never, never have I known the end of the play before I started writing.   Never have I looked at a diagram of structure and plotted points.  I just tell the story.

And I learned an incredibly important point about the craft of writing:

Sometimes we can get so caught up in how to tell the story that we forget to tell the story.*

Structure is something that either I don’t have or find instinctively.  All I know is that it is something I don’t sweat about.  Until I have to write a blog post.


*This really doesn’t require a quote mark since I just made it up, but I like the way it highlights the text.


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