Story and Structure: A Webinar

Last Sunday, I spent a couple of useful hours participating in my first webinar. The event was hosted and moderated by Shelley Souza, who seems to be the editorial voice behind the website at In her invitation to the webinar, Shelley wrote the following:

One reason I want to offer this free webinar for fiction writers is because I have been listening to a series of conversations with Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and other highly successful television series shows). I rarely watch television, not having grown up with one, and I have no interest in writing for this medium. But her advice that story informs structure resonated with me. Not for the reason she stated–essentially that each genre has its own structure–but because understanding why story informs structure is paramount to writers who want the power of their voice to drive their work.

In a private message to me that she wrote in response to my admission that I hoped to garner advice that would make me a more efficient writer, she warned me that it was unlikely that she could help in that regard. Here’s some of what she wrote.

I saw that you’re looking for a strategic approach to making yourself a more efficient writer. This webinar will not give you that. It is not what I am interested in helping writers with–there are plenty of other writers and teachers who are already working on this. In many ways the work I do is the antithesis of that, because I don’t believe it’s helping to make writers write with originality and strength. So you may not wish to attend. If, however, you still do, here is an earlier email I sent to writers who had already signed up.

I was impressed with her honesty but, beyond that, I’m not the sort to be put off by a different approach, by someone else’s idea of how a thing ought to be done. In any case, I’ve not had much schooling in Creative Writing so the whole theoretical formulation of Aristotle’s Poetics is no more than a dim candle in the glare of Literature. I mean, I’m open to ideas here.

I don’t write with any structure in my head. There are characters, there’s a story, and there’s a place where things happen. Behind everything is my philosophy, loosely defined as the sum of the decisions I have made about how I want to live my life, broadly speaking.

It turned out quite well for me. Shelley talked a bit, outlining her ideas in conversations with each of the participants of the webinar; a one-on-one session with each that was conducted openly. She also set up two short writing exercises, the first at the start of the webinar and the other after she had explained what she was advocating – her approach to the way story informs structure.

The short version, as I understood it, was that the important thing is the unique voice that is the natural possession of every writer; writing ought to begin with that voice, with its free expression which, if allowed, will produce a structure that is a natural fit for the story. In a strange way, she reminded me a bit of Bruce Lee, and his ideas about the role of Tradition in martial arts.

I will not attempt here to explicate Shelley’s ideas. Instead I will suggest that you visit her website at and form your own understanding. I will only add that I found them interesting and useful in my own writing.

About neiladaniel

Self published writer of sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, so far.
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2 Responses to Story and Structure: A Webinar

  1. Shelley Souza says:

    Thank you so much, Neil. I’m glad to hear you found the webinar useful.

    To clarify–although one of my goals in working with writers is to encourage them to let their voice lead the way, I also say that a writer must know craft so well they no longer think about it (like driving a car). And that to write fiction well one must read widely. An understanding of the classical canon is crucial because it is our lineage in the way our personal family history and ancestors are our lineage. Personally, I also read a lot of non-fiction on a wide array of topics that interest me, eve if I don’t understand exactly what’s being said. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is a case in point; I read this book when it was first published and understood very little of it, but the breadth of his thinking filled me with a sense of wonder and awe.

    Most writers who have read widely have learned craft by osmosis–through the unconscious structure, use of words, rhythm, cadence, etc., of books by authors they love–which I find is much more powerful (in the way I think about craft) than reading actual craft books or books on how to plot a novel-length work.

    Mostly, however, in a world that has become prescriptive about how to write fiction, I am trying to empower writers to listen to and trust themselves for reasons I think were obvious in the webinar.


    • neiladaniel says:

      Yes, they absolutely were and I’m happy that you’ve clarified the idea for readers of this blog. I hope that they’re all encouraged to go to the source; as Bruce Lee put it in his essay, I am here the finger pointing to the sun. They should not look at the finger but at the sun.


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