How To Structure A Story Plot

A good novel requires structure. The story meanders along and quickly feels like a mere sequence of scenes. Rather than a coherent narrative due to the lack of a common thread or central events, such as the climax and turning points. To avoid this, plan out the structure of your story and identify the key moments ahead of time.

Why is a clear structure so important?

At first glance, the terms structure and composition appear to be restrictive. Do you ever wonder why you can't write your story how you want it? They could. A clear structure, on the other hand, allows you to get more out of an idea. A meaningful structure guides the reader through the action and allows them to root for it. Classic models such as the three- or five-act structure were established centuries ago and are still used for a reason. They are effective in telling a compelling story.

Furthermore, the structure reduces the risk of becoming bogged down in writing and allowing the story to stagnate. It may thus make sense to plan the sequence of events ahead of time. The structure can also be added later to the story by rearranging, adding, or deleting individual scenes.

The fear that following a pre-made model will deprive history of its uniqueness is unfounded. Because the models are filled with different content, variation occurs naturally. The fact that the constructs can be applied to different genres demonstrates their flexibility. They work equally well for romantic love stories as they do for gory thrillers, even though the two appear to have little in common at first glance. You decide which plot structure is best for you and how to adapt it to your needs. Because the construction models are not rigid specifications but rather flexible planning aids.

The classic novel structure

Three act structure

Several models can be used to structure your story, one of the most popular being the three-act structure, which divides the novel's plot into three sections. In the first part, the characters, the setting, and the plot are introduced. The reader gets to know the story's world and gets an idea of ​​what it is supposed to be about. What are the open questions and most important conflicts? What kind of story is told? That should be clear in the first part because its central function is to arouse curiosity so that the reader wants to know the rest of the plot. In the second part, the conflicts come to a head, the plot becomes more active, and the story reaches its climax. A turning point leads to the next section at the end of the first and second parts. In the last part, the conflicts are resolved. The storylines are brought to an end, and as many open questions as possible are clarified to bring the story to a satisfying end - regardless of whether it is a happy ending or a tragedy.

Five act structure

The five-act structure follows a similar pattern but looks at construction more closely. The first act introduces the story. In the second act, the conflict escalates, and the protagonist is forced to act, bringing the story to its climax in the third part. For the protagonist, this usually means the absolute low point; at this point, everything seems hopeless, and the conflicts and problems reach their maximum. Only in the fourth act do they slowly dissolve; there is a turning point, which brings about the resolution that is told in the fifth act.

Seven-point system

Plotting is extensive using Dan Wells' seven-point system. Again, the first section serves as an introduction to the story, characters, and setting. This is followed by the first twist or trigger for the story: A problem arises, the initial situation changes, and tension builds. The next section is called "first trick." Here the situation of the protagonist deteriorates, often, at this point, the antagonist is introduced, and the protagonist is forced to act. This leads to the story's midpoint, where the protagonist is now actively acting and has developed a clear goal to work toward. With the so-called second trick, the situation deteriorates again; the protagonist fails and reaches his absolute low point. Everything seems hopeless, but the second twist comes: a possibility of reaching the goal is revealed. Depending on the chosen ending, the situation is saved at the last moment, or absolute defeat is initiated. Finally, the main conflict is resolved. The end of the story is the opposite of the starting point.

How exactly can you proceed?

Once you've determined which model is best for your needs, it's time to apply it to your personal story. First, consider what you want your novel to be about. What is the story's central idea or central theme? What factors are particularly significant? Next, you can develop the major key moments, such as the beginning, end, climax, and turning points. Once these are in place, you can see what needs to happen in between to connect the sections meaningfully. The scenes should logically build on each other; the best way is to give the impression that no other sequence is possible because events and character developments will inevitably diverge.

You can also use the models separately for each storyline and define the most critical scenes. Not all storylines must run concurrently, but they can develop at different rates. So, while not all highlights must coincide, the climax of the main plot may be reached a few scenes before the climax of the love story told in a side story. When several key events from different storylines coincide, a scene becomes meaningful. Scene organization is an excellent way to control tension and keep readers interested.

Once the rough structure is determined, a concrete list of scenes can be created. However, this is not required, and how detailed you plan ahead of time is entirely up to you. Some people need a detailed plan, while others prefer to begin with a broad concept and flesh it out as they write. If you do not plan ahead of time, you can still use the procedure just described. After finishing the first draft, list all the scenes and consider where to locate the key moments. Are they in the right place, or is something crucial, such as a turning point, missing? Individual scenes may appear unimportant in the grand scheme of things in retrospect. All of this can be evaluated.

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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