How Do You Structure A Story?

Agents, editors, Hollywood pundits, lecturers, and anyone who wants to tell stories all talk about a good plot structure. It can appear convoluted, tricky, mysterious, and almost impossible to master. So I'd like to give you a place to start when properly structuring your novel, screenplay, or presentation without getting bogged down in rules, details, and jargon.

These are the ten key elements of structure - ten approaches to structure - that will immediately improve your story's emotional - and commercial - impact.

1. The only rule of structure

According to TV writer Doug Heyes, there is only one rule for good plot structure: what is happening now must be more interesting than what has just occurred. Pass. The goal of structure—the purpose of your entire story—is to elicit an emotion in the reader or audience. You should be fine if your story becomes more compelling as it progresses.

2. It's all about the goal 

The plot's events and twists should all stem from your heroine's desires. Without external motivation for your protagonist - a clear, measurable goal your heroine is desperate to achieve - your story cannot progress. Never stop challenging yourself! "What does my heroine hope to accomplish by the end of the story?" Can readers imagine what it will be like to achieve this goal? Will they cheer your heroine on to the finish line? Ask yourself the same questions for any scene: "What does my heroine want in this scene?" And what is the relationship between his immediate goal and his external motivation? If your response is "I don't know" or "It's not related," your story is doomed.

3. Always bigger, bigger… worse

The character's motivation is what gives the story its shape, but the conflict is what makes you feel something. The more problems your character has to solve and the harder it seems to do so, the more your audience will be interested. The conflict must get worse, with each new problem, foe, barrier, weakness, fear, or setback being worse than the last. Don't stop asking yourself, "What can I do to make it harder for my character to get what he wants?"

4. Something old, something new

In each scene, something must happen that has never happened before: a new situation for the heroine, a new secret to reveal, a new ally to join, a new enemy to face, a new lover to win over, a new (even bigger) problem to solve, and a new way to solve it. You are stalling if the scenes could be switched around or if nothing changes from one scene to the next.

5. Before and after

Think of your story's overall structure as symmetrical and divide it into three parts. (This is NOT the same as the three acts; we look at the structure differently here.) For example, in Section 1, we see the hero in his everyday life at the story's start. He's stuck in some way, either because he's used to a life that doesn't make him happy or because he doesn't know what he wants.

On the other side of this symmetrical building is a picture of the same hero, but this time he looks different. He lives a different life than he did at first. He is older and more sure of who he is. The last scene must give us a clear picture of the hero after he has faced the good and bad results of having (or not having) the physical and emotional courage he needed to reach his goal and end his journey.

The journey is between these "before" and "after" pictures. Here, the need and the overwhelming conflict meet head-on. But without those beginning and ending parts, the structure isn't complete, and the story won't work.

6. The Opportunity

Your heroine should be given a chance at the end of the first set of events. After that, something must happen to your heroine that makes her want something and puts her in a new situation. At this point, your story will start to move forward, and your heroine's external motivation will finally become clear. This unique situation, which is often geographical and always uncharted territory, is where her external motivation will become clear.

7. Focus & Determination

No matter what drives your hero from the outside, he shouldn't start going after his goal right away. First, he has to get used to his new situation, figure out what's going on, and find his place. Only then will his vague and general desire become clearer. Then, and only then, can he act on the outside force that drives your story?

8. Lines & arcs

The idea of structure applies to the heroine's outside journey to reach the goal and the inside journey she takes to change. In other words, as the plot moves forward and the heroine faces more and more challenging obstacles on her way to the end, she must also find more and more courage within herself to get over the fears that held her back and kept her from finding true happiness and good self-esteem. So, stop asking, "How does my heroine change in this scene?" How do his fears show up and get put to the test? And finally, "What does my main character do at the end of the story that she wouldn't have been brave enough to do at the beginning?" This answer shows how your heroine has changed mentally over time. This is called her arc.

9. secrets and lies

When you say that your reader or audience knows something that some of your characters don't, you are in a position of superiority. This gives you one of the most valuable tools for building structure: anticipation. When we know who and where the killer is before the hero does, or when we know the hero is hiding something, we will keep turning the pages to find out what will happen when the conflict comes up or the secret is revealed.

10. Turn imagination into reality As an author, it's not enough to take the reader to unique places and show them exciting and interesting events and characters; you also have to make them believe they're real. Your reader wants to put aside their doubts and follow you, but you must let them. Ensure your characters act in a way that makes sense and is consistent. Your readers will find it easy to believe in faraway fantasy worlds, larger-than-life characters, and crazy events, but only if your characters act as real people would. You can even give your hero superpowers, but we have to know how he got them, and these powers have to be limited in some way to make him weak.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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