For the Love of Story Structure For the Love of Story Structure | Shades of Crimson

For the Love of Story Structure

by Davina on October 3, 2010

The value of story structure

While writing, ideas don’t necessarily come in sequence. That can be frustrating and confusing because the brain wants to put them in some kind of order to make sense of them.

To make things even more interesting, the imagination can unleash a succession of ideas that a writer will find distracting if they’re focused on a current thought. They may continue writing but feel distracted as the other ideas swim through their imagination.

They may stop writing to consider this new information and loose their current train of thought, possibly even abandoning it for the new material. Then there are times when a writer will be at a loss for ideas or where to go next with their story.

Knowing how story structure works can help a writer see how it supports the creative process rather than restricts it. By knowing the different points of story structure, you can assign your ideas to their proper place and use them when you need them. When you’re stuck for a direction you can review the story you’ve outlined, invent new characters and formulate events to carry the reader forward.

As often happens, the characters will begin to direct the story and there might be times when you do change an event you had outlined. The story structure isn’t written in stone; it is yours to change if you see fit.

Story structure points

Larry Brooks writes about the different aspects of story structure in his Story Structure series on storyfix.com. To sum it up briefly, there are four parts to a novel. Each part is bridged by an event that further engages the characters and the readers, shifting their perspective about what is at stake.

Part One — Setup: The characters and their applicable background is established, with a few possible foreshadowing events that will lead to the First Plot Point.

First Plot Point (FPP): This is the most important event in the entire story. It is where the story begins and should be positioned near the end of Part One. This event moves the main character(s) into Part Two where they engage in what is called the Response.

Part Two — Response: The main character(s) responds to the conflict unveiled in Part One. They are anxious, flustered or confused. The events of the story should reflect this.

Mid Point Shift: Just when the character thinks they have things figured out, THIS happens. This moves the main character(s) into Part Three where they move from Response mode to Attack mode.

Part Three — Attack: Events in this section increase the tension and pace as the character(s) summon their courage and creative thinking to support their plight.

Second Plot Point: This event gives the character(s) what they need to be a catalyst to the story’s conclusion. It is positioned near the end of Part Three.

Part Four — Resolution: The stakes of the story are paid off. The plight of the character(s) is resolved, not necessarily in the way they might have imagined.

How story structure worked for me

While writing Serious Undulations during the 3-Day Novel Contest, this is the story structure I followed. Otherwise, I don’t believe I would have finished writing the story before the deadline. Each writer will apply this differently; some writers may have an ending in mind, while others have an opening chapter they are inspired to write. For the short novel that I wrote, it was the First Plot Point that formed the basis for the story’s direction.

I worked backwards from the idea of the First Plot Point (though not written yet) to set up the background in the way that I could foreshadow events that would lead up to this main conflict. Then I focused on how the main character(s) would respond to the FPP; how they would fight back and finally, how the story would be resolved. It was a wild ride that was very befitting of the title Serious Undulations.

Once the plot points were established, they formed the basis for the story to unfold. The creative writing flowed between the plot points, because of the plot points; not in spite of them.

What has your experience been with story structure?

Do you have another method that works for you?

Photo credit: GenBug

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{ 28 comments }

Betsy Wuebker October 3, 2010 at 4:51 am

Hi Davina – I’ve not written fiction for a very long time, perhaps since high school? But this progression makes sense for telling a true story as well. Let’s face it, a story isn’t a good one unless there’s some dissonance and it gets resolved. How we tell that strengthens the impact. Good things to think about that will help us all become better writers.

Just curious, now that you have S.U. done, are you considering NaNoWriMo? I first typed that NoNoWriMo, LOL!! I guess that gives you my answer to the question. :)
.-= Betsy Wuebker´s last blog ..Back in Farm Country =-.

Patricia October 3, 2010 at 9:04 am

Davina, this was so interesting to read. I have never done much fiction writing and traditional style poetry is mathematically based and leaves me out. I just so liked knowing this and reading this and as I was reading I thought about a British television series that I watch and so enjoy – this is the exact pattern they use not only in each 40 minute segment or chapter, but for the whole series….I believe it is what makes the story so satisfying and then the humor truly stands out – boldly – the conflict is subtle to the main story line. I enjoy being able to see the pattern clearly and analyze the story. Thank you truly liked your topic today…and your fine writing

Eliza October 3, 2010 at 9:36 am

So far, I have only written short stories. Basically one pagers, and all the structures you described above just flowed naturally. However, I have been reluctant to tackle a longer story because I knew I would have to pre-organize my thoughts, but I had no clue how to go about it.

Thanks for this summary! I am bookmarking it for future reference.
.-= Eliza´s last blog ..I look exactly like who I am =-.

Lori October 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hi Davina,
Thanks for this this post. I’m a huge fan of Larry Brooks — he knows his element and is quite an amazing guy. The elements of Story Structure are what helped me finish my NaNoWriMo novel last year in 19 days. I bullet-pointed my plot points prior to the start of the month and it seemed almost too easy to simply write the hell of a couple of the points each day. I was finished before I knew it!

I had commitments as of Nov 20th last year, so I had to get ‘er done by the 19th. So, there’s nothing special about the 19 days, in case you’re wondering.

I think there’s something deeper to this structure, too. It’s much easier to say, “I think I’ll write the scene where the woman in the hospital recognizes her attacker,” as opposed to, “Shoot, I better work on my NOVEL today.”

For me, bite-sized pieces are always so much more digestible! ;)

Thanks, Davina. Enjoy your day!
~xo
.-= Lori´s last blog ..Naked in Eden Breathing Change =-.

vered | blogger for hire October 3, 2010 at 8:56 pm

This is why I write blog posts and not fiction. :)

Davina October 3, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Betsy,
LOL… NoNoWriMo :-) And that *would* be the correct answer! It’s true what you say… it’s all in the delivery. This just reminded me of art and how challenging it is sometimes to draw or paint a picture that is in your head. That can happen for writers too. This process is great because it helps to draw out the story by considering the different aspects.

Patricia,
Thanks. Very glad you enjoyed reading this. I used to fight the idea of story structure until about a month ago. This process draws a good balance between the right/left brain. As you say, it’s good to be able to see patterns because when in creative mode things can come at you so fast.

Eliza,
You’re welcome. I love the short stories I’ve read of yours. Larry has included some material on storyfix.com about story structure for short stories too, BTW.

Lori,
You’re welcome. There is a lot of material on Larry’s blog; it’s an amazing resource. You’re exactly right! It *did* seem too easy to write the hell out of a couple of plot points, lol. This does give you a good focus point; exactly.

Wow, you did the NaNoWriMo?! What did you end up doing with the finished product?

Vered,
LOL. And, you do an awesome job with your blog posts. :-)

Joy October 4, 2010 at 2:37 am

Davina,
I’m with vered on this one:)
I find it all very interesting..however in my life once there are established “guidelines” I tend to want to put my own spin on them..
I do agree with Lori, once you have a specific objective, it is much easier to accomplish your goal…
I like that what you share here is sometimes so far out of my realm it opens my mind to creative opportunities I wouldn’t even normally consider..thank you for that!

J.D. Meier October 4, 2010 at 10:35 am

I like the behind the scenes look at your work and a look at story structure. I think structure is powerful as a starting point or baseline, and I think it helps creativity move up the stack instead of get lost in the basics.
.-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..The Sleeper Effect =-.

Hilary October 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Hi Davina .. having never written a novel – nor thought about it .. I’m just so interested in picking up snippets here and there in the blogosphere .. character traits etc .. and spreadsheets setting things out .. and now here the various plot scenarios as the book unwinds, or winds ..

The murder mystery I wrote is entertaining .. but I can see loose ends – especially as I read it more often .. I vaguely tied it together .. sufficient for the purpose!

Great to read about .. and think about for perhaps unlikely future works .. who knows! .. Cheers for now .. I do hope you do well with your entry .. it does sound intriguing .. Hilary xoxxoo
.-= Hilary´s last blog ..This Earth’s Crust its waste- but yet its offerings =-.

Jannie Funster October 4, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Hmmmmmmn, I’ve got this song I’m working on. And I wonder if this can apply to it. I set up the characters, yes kind of, they are images. No real plot. Does something happen at the end of V1? Is there confusion in verse 2? Is there a major switch in a bridge? Is there a resolution in the 3rd verse? Does my song tell a story? Does it need to tell a story? Hmmmmmmmn indeed. Very very good food for thought.

I saw a sign today that said something really really inspiring. What it said escapes me now. Luckily, I’ll be driving past the sign again on the way home later, and it will all come back to me — something about doubt and trusting. I’ll have to come back here later to tell you!

Xoxo
.-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..You Will Sit In Cafes — a poem =-.

Davina October 4, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Hi Joy,
You’re welcome! That’s what I love about this story structure is that it gives you room TO put your own spin on things. Stretching that mind is good for you, cause you never know what you’re going to find until you go there.

Hi JD.
Exactly! It helps creativity to not get lost in the basics. It gives it something to work with as opposed to wandering. Wandering has it’s place :-) to generate an idea and to work within the plot points. All in good stride. Too much wandering is just… wandering.

Hi Hilary,
Hm. It sounds like you are planning something without really trying. This could be very interesting to see where all these collected snippets of information lead you. Maybe you’ll rework the murder mystery when you feel like toying with it. Would be neat to see what you come up with.

Hi Jannie,
This is really cool thinking here! Let me know what you come up with. I’d LOVE to hear. Isn’t that funny how we see or hear things that inspire us and they’re gone so quickly? :-) Hope you come back to share what was on that sign.

Rebecca October 5, 2010 at 1:27 am

Hello Again
Story structure theory is useful, but it’s like learning rules of anything, once you know them, you shouldn’t *need* them. To me they’re unconscious, like grammar and spelling (mostly). From my experience when I write, I’m not thinking about structure. And when I do, I end up writing essays instead of Story. When I write deliberately to goals it feels off. Then I like the Ursula Le Guin quote questioning the premise conflict is necessary. And not having a structure aforethought doesn’t mean I’m not considering what happens to the plot (if any) or the character/s. Sometimes I do have somewhere I want them to go. Often that’s the problem. Anyhoo, Just Write. Sort it out later, or let the academicals apply a structure to your towering narrative ediface.

Jannie Funster October 5, 2010 at 9:05 am

The sign said…

“Doubt finds obstacles.
Faith finds a way.”

That sure applies to all of life, thinking today of writing specifically and having faith in our talent.

You are a blog angel, Davina for this post — the second verse came together today for me, whooooo-hooooo. THANK YOU for helping me see my song as a story.

You are a fine fine writer, Davina — quite remarkable what comes out of your imagination, really. I remember your post where you shared about losing your writing flow when your doubting mind came to edit. That post helped me trust my muse a lot. Thanks for that!! And for you and your shining blog, in general.

xoxo
.-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..10 Major Blog Improvements I’m Working On or at least thinking about =-.

Davina October 5, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Rebecca.
I’m not recommending that everyone follow this procedure. It worked well for my writing and I swear by it now. I love the idea of mapping out a path and then stopping to consider along the way, “Oh, but what if *this* happened instead?” What I love about this is that once the storyline is planned it is not written in stone. It’s important to find what works best for you and it sounds like you’ve found it, Rebecca. You are an excellent writer — if it ain’t broke… :)

Jannie,
Interesting quote — love it! Thanks for coming back to share it. That could have applied to my perspective about story structure before I found this method. This is fun to work with because it’s like giving yourself a mark to shoot for… like playing darts perhaps. It gets exciting when the writing “lands” the way you planned and then when you need to divert from the path it gets interesting.

Yayy… that’s great… the second verse came together. Woohoo!! :-) Thanks for the awesome feedback about my blog, Jannie. It makes me happy to feel that I’m helping out in some way. Will I get to read or hear your new song?

Rebecca October 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Hi again,
Thanks Davina! When I think about my critical writing the more I wrote the more muddled I became. I can write fine 1500, 3000 and 5000 word essays, but a 12000 word thesis nearly killed me. It was in one paragraph written by hand. I’ve never benefited from an editor more! What created the muddle was not having a plan written out & I’ve learned a lot since then. (Like paragraphing:) Having said that, perhaps what my longer creative writing also needs are the ‘tent pole’ sign post organisers, so I can actually finish something novel-like.
That’s why I like this blog, it’s a space where I can rethink stuff like this:)
.-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Fluffy =-.

Jannie Funster October 6, 2010 at 6:53 am

But of course, my dear — you will get to hear the song! I’ll be entering it and “Drink Up The Stars” for Kerville, substituting this new one “Do You Dream The Dream I Do” for “Sail a Child.” 2 sonbgs are entered.

I am busting my fingers on guitar these days to play it nicely for you on my site.

xoxo
.-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..10 Major Blog Improvements I’m Working On or at least thinking about =-.

Chris Edgar October 6, 2010 at 8:49 am

Hi Davina — perhaps this article is the beginning of a new fiction writing guide — and since you are now publicly known and celebrated as the author of “Serious Undulations,” perhaps the new book could be called “Serious Structure,” and then eventually we will be able to buy the entire “Serious Series” at a bulk discount, and auctions will be held where a full signed “Serious Set” will be sold for thousands!

Lori October 6, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Hi Davina,

Your question in reply to me actually enticed me to write a post about it. I hope you don’t mind me taking this route, but it’s a looonnnngggg answer. ;)

Thanks again for being the goddess writer maven you are. I love visiting here. Take care!
~xo
.-= Lori´s last blog ..NaNoWriMo You In Six Points to Consider =-.

Barbara Swafford October 7, 2010 at 12:11 am

Hi Davina,

I’m with Vered on this one. :)
.-= Barbara Swafford´s last blog ..Comments Can Get You Sued =-.

Davina October 7, 2010 at 10:44 am

You’re welcome, Rebecca.
Funny you should mention “tent pole” because there is a PDF on storyfix.com with an image that represents a circus tent. It clearly illustrates each of the plot points I’ve noted in this post and positions them as poles holding up the tent. I can find it for you if you’d like a copy. There really is a science to this. I’m glad you’re finding something useful here :-)

Jannie, dawhling :-)
Oh, I can’t wait! Woo hoo. *shakes pom poms*

Hi Chris.
“Publicly known and celebrated as the author of Serious Undulations” — sigh, that sounds real nice *grins*

Serious Structure… oooh, that sounds great too! LOL… (I’m reading and replying to your comment in pieces — this is live comment replying in action) I just saw Serious Series and Serious Set… hah hah hah. You’re so funny! You could be my marketing advisor or agent. I need an agent.

Hi Lori.
I saw the pingback to your post — thank you! I can’t wait to read your post. I’ve been preoccupied with tasks other than reading blogs these last few days, so hopefully today I can get back a little of that rhythm. Must head over to Jane Be Nimble :-)

Hi Barbara.
LOL. You’re in the groove. No need to move. Nothing to prove. Just groove :-)

Rebecca October 8, 2010 at 4:40 am

Thanks Davina, that’d be most welcome. The tent pole concept was something writers spoke about at Aussie Con4. A couple of SF writers – John Scalzi and Melissa Snodgrass spoke of having specific strategic plot points they tried to reach as tent poles and the rest of it, the making it up as you go along bit, as the tent.
.-= Rebecca´s last blog ..My B Movie Hero =-.

Kelly@SHE-POWER October 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Larry Brooks has a great site at StoryFix. The structure he proposes is based on the heroes Journey and the work of Joseph Campbell, as most story structure work is. I’m re-reading Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Writer’s Journey’ at the moment and I highly recommend it for anyone writing fiction, especially lengthy fiction. The thing with structure is it sets creativity free and gives you a baseline to check your work against. Great books are a dance between structure and story – you need both – and while some people can freely create a powerful, well structured novel without actively thinking about it, they’re few and far between. But the order in which you go about this process is very individual and we all have to do what feels right for us. I think the key is if you feel good about how you’re doing it and what you’re achieving with your piece then you’re on the right track.

Kelly
.-= Kelly@SHE-POWER´s last blog ..I’ve Been Published in a Book! =-.

Patty - Why Not Start Now? October 8, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Hi Davina,

I love this, because I think you’re saying that the structure actually enhances the creative process. Last year I attended a lecture given by Stephen Sondheim, and he talked about just that. He characterized himself artistically as a “curious fox,” continually experimenting with new forms and processes. But the way he keeps the fox in-check so he can actually produce work is to build a fence that allows the fox to only go so far. I thought that was brilliant.

As I was reading the story structure you’ve shared, it seemed very familiar to me, reminiscent of the Hero’s Journey. And then I read Kelly’s comment above and that confirmed it for me! I’ve read Vogler’s book too, as well as another good one based on archetypes and depth psychology: “Stealing Fire From the Gods” by James Bonnet.

As for me, I haven’t yet written a novel, but I like to think I have one in me! I’m pretty sure it’s going to need to come out one of these days.
.-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Love and Work =-.

Davina October 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Rebecca,
Exactly! This is how it works. (I’ve emailed you that PDF.) You can adjust the tent poles as you go, too. That’s what I love about this. It’s not as confining as it sounds.

Hi Kelly.
Thanks for the reference to “The Writer’s Journey”. I’ve just penciled it into my book list. I LOVE your comment about how the structure sets the creativity free — a colleague and I were just talking about that very same thing yesterday.

Patty.
Exactly. It does enhance the creative process. It breaks ground… fertilizes the process, if you will. New forms and processes, parallels, metaphors… all of this comes into play! :-) The structure itself brings it all to life. I feel like comparing it to a petri dish.

Stephen Sondheim’s lecture sounds brilliant. I need to take a year off just to read all these books. Thanks to you too for another great sounding reference.

Sara October 12, 2010 at 8:18 am

Davina,

First of all, I love your picture and the writeup in the left panel. It’s a nice picture. Secondly, I really appreciate this article as I had wanted to know more about the plot points. This is very helpful. It’s funny as I look back on something I’m working on, I can see how exploring the plot points in advance might have made things a lot easier for me.

Thanks:~)
.-= Sara´s last blog ..Story Photo- Something More! =-.

Davina October 13, 2010 at 1:04 am

Hi Sara.
Thanks. I like that picture too because I look relaxed and not posed. I remember you were interested in knowing more about plot points — glad this helped. This structure is particularly useful for longer pieces of writing such as novels. Larry has posted some additional information on his site at storyfix.com where he talks about structure for other genres.

Linda October 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Davina, hi,

This is great information you’ve put together and shared with us. I am not a the point yet in writing, though, that I would know how to use it. Most of the short stories that I’ve written start from a simple phrase or idea, and I don’t know where I’m going until I get there.

Sorry it’s taken so long to get back here. I read it the other day, and re-read it again just now.

Jim October 20, 2010 at 11:42 pm

I find it very interesting how you described your story structure.
It really makes a lot of sense for writers. Ya, get your ideas down and then organize it.

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