Some people think that story structure makes every story the same, that it limits creativity. K. M. Weiland compared story structure this way: “Because every ballet incorporates the same movements, therefore, every ballet must be the same.” If you’ve ever been to a ballet, you know that the same type movements are incorporated in every dance, yet each dance is as unique in style and execution as each story.
So where do we begin with our story structure. Dan Wells likes to begin with the end in mind, or at the end of the book. Know where you’re going is a great place to start. For instance, if you know that you want to have your main character strong at the end of the book, then he will probably start with him weak. If your character is lonely, then your character will end with having friends. Look at your character and figure out what your character will be like by the end of the book. So starting at the end of the book will give you direction throughout your story.
Now that you know how your book ends you’ll want to start with a great hook. After all, if you want your reader to make it all the way to the end of the book, you want to start with some something that draws your reader in and makes you care about him, and the sooner you can make this happen in your story the better. The best place for a hook is certainly by the end of the first chapter, but even better if it’s on the first page or what about the first paragraph? The best of all is a beginning sentence that completely sucks us helplessly into the book.
After your great hook you launch right into Act I. Here is where we get to know the characters, what’s at stake for them? What does the main character stand to lose. And most importantly is why we should care.
This is the part of the story where we are faced with a conflict or crisis. Always in the first part of Act I. This is usually something that happens to the character that he has no control of. The main character merely follows along because he has no choice.
Plot Point 1
The first plot point is an event that changes everything and becomes a personal turning point for the main character.
The first major plot point is one of the most exciting moments in any story. Hit your character with something so cataclysmic that your readers will keep turning pages. This again will be something that forces the character to react.
Act II (the first half)
At this point the character is still reactionary. He reacts strongly to what is happening around him. This also needs to be a foreshadow of how things will play out.
This is almost exactly halfway through your story. At this point something drastic needs to happen to your character that forces him to act instead of react. It’s the point when the character takes control of what is happening. Even if he is powerless to change events, he now takes charge of his actions.
2nd half of Act II
This is the character’s epiphany, his self-realization. It’s his “Aha” moment. From here until the climax is where things really start to roll at a break-neck pace. Make sure that the character is changing and growing, perhaps in unexpected ways. Pay attention to his relationships to other characters.
Act III-No escape
This is the point in which all seems lost. The main character faces the antagonist. There is no escape.
The climax of a story is at the end of the No Escape and should have readers on the edges of their seats, biting their nails. At the end of the climax is the victory, in happy-ever-after stories, or the death in tragic books.
This part of the book that ties up any loose ends. It’s the character’s reactions and shows him moving forward with his life as a forever changed person. It’s the last time the author has to leave his reader with any final thoughts or feelings. It can be a reiteration of the theme.
One final thought on resolutions. There are two kinds of resolution. One is external conflict like the kind we have in a plot driven novel and the other is internal conflict like that found in a character driven novel. And as Dan Wells so brilliantly put it, “If you can have both types of conflict in your novel, your book will be even that more powerful.”
Now with all that said, go check out story structure by visiting Dan Wells on YouTube. Be sure to watch all 5 episodes. You will learn so much!
What do you find the best way to structure you story? Are there any elements you add to your structure?