5 Ways to Play With Story Structure

Recently I've been inspired to play with story structure, from both books I've read this year and my English teacher's suggestion. So far I've only experimented in my short stories, from including fictional poems before each scene, to writing out a fictional transcript to include at the beginning of a longer story. Through this, and loving books recently that play with structure, I've come to realize not only is it fun to read/write them, but also adds a certain level of depth!

Playing with structure captures the reader's interest, and has the possibility to reflect a theme, show off a character's voice, or enrich the experience. So without further ado, here are some ideas of what you can include, to play with story structure!

1) Diary/Journal Entries
Example: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Diary entries (at least from what I've seen) are more common in MG or historical fiction, but there's so much potential for other age ranges and genres! Rather than having the character's story told by a narrator, the character is reflecting on what they perceive to be important events in their day. There are many possibilities here to play around with unreliable narrators, and showcase different sides of a conflict, as well as giving the reader a more personal connection to the character!

2) Artwork
Ex: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Whenever I see an illustration in a book, my heart dances. As someone who struggles to imagine characters' faces and such, having artwork can help me have a clear picture in my mind. Not only that, but done right, illustrations will not distract from the text, but enrich them. The colour of drawings can build upon the tone set in the story, for example. Artwork can also showcase an important scene in the story, or if the character is supposed to be its artist, provide deeper insight into their emotional state.

3) Letters/Messages
Ex: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The first novels were epistolary novels, meaning they consisted of letters either from one person to another, or a back-and-forth letter chains between pairs of characters. For historical or fantasy novels including letters can show a different POV without having to switch prose-wise. For contemporary, text messages, emails, tweets, etc. can have the same effect -- they present dialogue and character voices in a unique, interesting way!

4) Newspaper Clippings/Quotes
Ex: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

I've been having lots of fun lately creating my own small snippets of "quotes" taken from books within my created world, and slipping them in before each scene/chapter. Done with a heavy hand it may be overwhelming, but it's an interesting technique to flesh out world-building, or show how the general public/a historian views history, tradition, or events that affect your story's present. For historical books, using real excerpts from newspapers may also help ground the reader deeper into the setting and tone.

5) Documents
Ex: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

From maps, to transcriptions, to secret documents, adding documents is essentially showing evidence to the reader. Some stories tell themselves exclusively in a collection of miscellaneous documents, others only include one or two along the way. Regardless, including documents (especially if the text and formatting looks different to the rest of the book) can grant the reader a sense of realism, and make them feel as though they are discovering the story for themselves!

Do you play with structure in your stories? What's your favourite book that includes letters, quotes, documents, etc.? 
Have a wonderful day, and best wishes with your writing! <3 


  1. Cool ideas. I've always loved diary format and I think it's certainly something people should use more. I also like letters too. They make for great storytelling.

    1. Yes, diary entries and letters can be lots of fun! I'd love to see more books in that format! :)

  2. I might have to try some of these. I like the story being told through letters.

    1. I'd be interested to see what you come up with if you do! :D

  3. For the longest time I thought that those things you mentioned were distracting and took away from the prose! It wasn't until I started writing seriously that I began to appreciate these structure elements.

    Wonderful post, Melissa!


    1. That's really interesting! I think I've always enjoyed them, but I haven't appreciated them for what they contribute to a story until recently. :) Thanks Catherine!

  4. I really like these ideas! I've always been interested in playing with story structure, but I've never exactly gotten around to it. One of my WIPs does feature a fair amount of texting though, so i guess that's a step in the right direction.
    My favorite book with unique structure is definitely Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Part confession, part diary, it's a really great way of playing with POV, unreliable narrators, and storytelling. Plus, I love historical fiction.

    1. Ooh texting is fun! Don't worry, I'm just beginning to experiment too, so I'm probably even more behind haha. xD
      I haven't read that one, but I'll definitely add it to my TBR! All those elements sound like something I'd love. :) Thanks for commenting, Maggie!

  5. This is a cool thing to point out! The Harry Potter series has a lot of newspaper articles and letters. For one from Hagrid it even included tear stains.


    1. Oh wow that's really cool! :D I'm sure that really adds an extra something to the series!


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