Flesh Out Your Story’s Structure

Salman Rushdie

Lesson time 14:21 min

Build the framework of your story through a well-planned plot with Salman’s techniques to help you avoid setbacks.

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Topics include: Build a Skeleton Through Plot · Allow Your Story to Unfold · Who’s Doing What to Whom? · Try a Mirroring Device · Embrace the False Starts · Listen to the Story: The Satanic Verses


SALMAN RUSHDIE: A novel is written well if the author is really looking at themselves and what they're trying to do and becoming very clear about it and saying, OK, here's what I'm trying to achieve. And this is what I need to do in order to get there, to set yourself the boundaries, set yourself the shape, and then stick to it. [MUSIC PLAYING] When you're trying to compose a novel, it's very often helpful to know where to hang your hat, so to speak. If you don't have some kind of edifice built of a story and a plot, some kind of structural element, it goes like this, then it can be very hard to know how to begin to flesh things out. The plot and structure are like the skeleton. And the characters and events are the flesh you put on that skeleton. There are writers who have always needed that skeleton to be very detailed. I mean, according to legend, Scott Fitzgerald was the writer of that kind, who really worked things out very carefully before writing. And there are other writers who kind of wing it more. And you have to find out which one you are because the only rule, really, is whatever works. That's the rule. The advantage of structure is that you know what you're doing and you know where you're going. In a novel like "Midnight's Children," where the actions of the characters are linked quite closely to historical events, I needed that plot because I needed to be able to map the lives of the characters onto the history of the country so that they coincided at the right points. And if I didn't do that, the book would have been unbelievably messy. So it desperately needed that kind of architecture. [MUSIC PLAYING] When people are writing toward film writing, there's all this stuff about three act structure and exactly how you must allow a story to unfold. My view is it's all nonsense. Many of the very greatest films I've seen have nothing to do with three act structure. If you look at the great cinema of the French New Wave or the Italian-- if you look at film directors like Visconti or to Truffaut or Godard or-- you can't look at their work using that kind of a grid. If it helps you to think I need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, three acts, then fine, do that. But it's but it's not compulsory. And in a book, it's even less compulsory than in a movie because a book can be a single moment. It can exist in a very single moment. To talk about Joyce's "Ulysses," all there is there is one day in the life of one man. So yeah, I mean it's an idea-- the three act structure, for example, is an idea you can use. I mean, it's usable. You know, it works. But it's only one idea. And my view is that the story will tell you. If you listen carefully to the story, the story will tell you what it needs to be. Sometimes you don't start at the beginning, you know? And sometimes you start in the middle. And then we've all now become very used to the idea of the flashback. You know, once upon a time the flashback...

About the Instructor

To the delight of readers across the globe, Salman Rushdie’s genre-defying novels have brought surreal and magical realms to life for decades. Now the Booker Prize–winning author teaches you the art and craft of storytelling. Learn how to draw from your own experiences to build vivid worlds, authentic characters, and complex plots. There are extraordinary stories that only you can write—start sharing them.

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Salman Rushdie

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.

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