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Monday, June 10, 2013

Story Structure--What Does it Really Mean?

It I asked you what the structure of a good story was...what would you say?

Would you draw me a diagram? Maybe something like this...

Or this...

We've all seen lots of diagrams and heard words like:
  • Three Acts or Beginning, Middle, End
  • Inciting Incident
  • Rising Action
  • Mid-point Reversal
  • Dark Moment
  • Climax
  • Falling Action/Resolution/Denouement
But what in the world does all of that really mean?

What if I showed it to you like this? (I found the following HERE.)

Algis Budrys’s seven point story structure:


  1. a character, 
  2. in a situation,
  3. with a problem, 
  4. who tries repeatedly to solve his problem, 
  5. but repeatedly fails, (usually making the problem worse), 
  6. then, at the climax of the story, makes a final attempt (which might either succeed or fail, depending on the kind of story it is), after which 
  7. the result is “validated” in a way that makes it clear that what we saw was, in fact, the final result. 

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey:

  1. The hero is confronted with a challenge, 
  2. rejects it, 
  3. but then is forced (or allowed) to accept it. 
  4. He travels on the road of trials, 
  5. gathering powers and allies, and 
  6. confronts evil—only to be defeated. 
  7. This leads to a dark night of the soul, after which 
  8. the hero makes a leap of faith that allows him to 
  9. confront evil again and be victorious. 
  10. Finally, the student becomes the teacher.
Does it make more sense? Is it easier to put your character on one of these tracks?

It was for me. Having the diagram was great, but having a simple list like this was even better. Now I can plug my story idea in and see if I have all the parts of a complete story. Here is where I plugged in The Magic Wakes.

  1. Scientist Talia Zaryn, 
  2. is moving to the city from her nightmares,
  3. where she knows she will meet her death. 
  4. She tries to find proof of the coming invasion and clues to how to defeat the creatures.
  5. But she keeps coming up empty. In the process she attracts the attention of the Royalist who believe she's part of an underground movement to take over the government. 
  6. Talia finally convinces the Royalist Commander that she's not the threat and that she might actually hold the key to saving their world. Shortly thereafter, 
  7. the Dragumon invasion begins and Talia uses her magical talent to focus the energy from thousands of untrained mages in order to defeat the creatures. 

This is the core plot. Of course there are lots of sub-plots and adventures along the way, but this is essentially the main story of book one in my series. There are consequences to #7, but that's an entirely different story. 

Plug in your story idea and see what you come up with. Share if you like, or simply share with us if you learned something new about your story by looking at it differently. 

5 comments:

N.Scott said...

Great exercise! Thanks for the post.

Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

My story diagrams are a little different. The MC is centered with all other characters orbiting. Each name has notes detailing the traits and consequences.

Alicia Willette-Cook said...

When I started 'seriously' writing 2 years ago...I did a lot of digging about the web on this. One of THE most helpful links I found was this. The marvelous Jim Butcher (believe it or not!) http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/4053.html
If you read down through to where he talks about story arc(h) THAT'S how I put together my stories. It's amazing how well it works for me. As I'm both a visual person as well a a plotter.
Thank God for Jim Butcher. In more ways then one! :D

LD Masterson said...

Interesting. My WIP fits pretty well into that first one. At least the main character does. Now I have to take another look at all the others.

Liz said...

I've seen that curve many, many times on the walls of English classrooms.