Excerpt from Grist Vol 2, 2009:
For me, structure comes after I figure out what a story is about. In “Save the I-Hotel” I knew that the present time moment of a single night had to be measured against events spanning an entire lifetime—the challenge was to develop and reveal a character through the back-and-forth between present and past, to find the points at which the two timelines would converge and echo one another. Given this structure, I had to be careful to not use the past as a way of “diagnosing” the protagonist, to infuse both timelines with the same amount of drama and suspense.
A story like “Superassassin,” which is told in the first person present, needed a linear structure. The past comes only as quick flashbacks or memories, and those moments are meant to serve the present-time tension. That’s a story that relies on amplification. The character begins in an emotionally bad place which grows worse, scene by scene. I only need a single timeline for that, and therefore a simple, linear structure.
That said, the structures of my stories are fairly traditional, so I’m envious of writers who are truly experimenting structure and form.