Saturday, February 8, 2014

Story structure, part 1

Ever had those moments when the  writing just doesn’t want to happen? Perhaps you’ve spent days or weeks spinning your wheels trying to write through the problem. In times like this I turn to study of the craft and pull out writing books or link to various articles online.

One of the biggest reasons my writing stalls is due to lack of direction.  KM Weiland is the one to seek on that matter. She’s got some stuff on her site about story structure and outlining. The two go hand in hand. Story structure is the framework around which the tale is spun. Outlining, or plotting, is the blueprint for that structure. John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story is another source to turn to, though Weiland presents it in a simpler manner.

Think of it like a new home under construction. Rising out of the foundation, framing goes up that defines the size and location of each room. Load-bearing walls on the perimeter and down the center support the roof rafters.

Stories need a firm foundation, a logical premise for a character’s tale to be told. Upon that, walls of setting and protagonist and antagonist support the roof of storyline.

Once the framework is in place the builder adds the brick and wood trim, windows, heating, electricity -  details that make the house a home. Writers similarly add story details that marks their creation different than the thousands of other books written.

Weiland, in her Structuring You Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, says many authors are unaware of story structure, yet write using many of its elements. There are several basic components that all good stories employ. She and Truby site effective uses of the components in literature ranging from Pride and Prejudice to The Godfather.

Truby presents twenty-two elements of structure that Weiland has boiled down the the ten listed below. I’ll address half of them here.

The Hook: Ideally the hook forces a reader to ask, what the heck is going on here? Curiosity engages the reader and invites them to read further.

Act 1 - Setting the Scene: Besides grounding readers within the story world, “a well-planned setting can empower your story with continuity and resonance.” (Weiland.)

Act 1 - Introducing Characters: Stories are about people. Without people you have no story. In the first quarter of the book, you should introduce your main characters and give readers a chance to learn about them. Be sure to include the goals the MC is striving for. Martine Leavitt calls this their object of desire - both physical and physchological. Most importantly, give readers a reason to care about characters.

Act 1 - Introducing Stakes:  As your characters first walk on stage, they should bring their objectives and the stakes involved to accomplishing it. Your first authorial duty to torture you characters happens here.

Plot Point #1: This is the point that moves the story forward from the introduction and set-up to meat of the tale. Stories are a series of scenes and the plot points are the major ones, the game changers that significantly alter the course of the story and jolt the MC into action. Some refer to this as the inciting incident. 

Next week, the remaining five: The First Half of the Second Act, The Second Half of the Second Act, Third Act, Climax, and Resolution.

(This article also posted at

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