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