Read! One of the biggest pieces of advice given to writers who want to learn more about their craft. Well, that’s great, but reading to learn how to write has never made a lot of sense to me.
The only thing I gathered from a lot of reading was intuitive feeling about how a story should go. Could I tell you how the pieces all fit together? No. Until I learned about story structure. Now I understand how to read and teach myself how to be a better writer.
Structure is one of my weak points, so that is what I chose to teach myself about as I read.
Let’s take a look at a story’s structure so you know how to recognize it while you’re reading. As a result, structure in your books will get stronger. By the time you’ve written a few and continued to read, you may find you don’t need a developmental editor anymore.
Take a broad view of story structure first. What always happens in a story? Something has to change. Usually that change happens at the middle of the story and is very distinct and life-altering. But it can also be a soft moment of realization. However it happens, this part of the story is viewed as the midpoint.
You can know it’s the midpoint because after you’ve read beyond it, you may notice it feels like you’re reading a different book than you were for the first half. This is the sweet moment when character change happens. He or she goes from being a victim and reacting to overcoming the story’s challenges, attacking the villain, and (hopefully) winning the big victory. (I’ll give a Star Wars example in a moment.)
First Two Parts of a Book
Setup and Reaction
Zoom in on the first half of the book. Break that down into two parts, and then we’ll break it down farther, okay? Baby steps.
Before the midpoint, the big moment of change, the book is going to open with the setup and the character’s reaction. The setup is the beginning, including the opening scene, where we see the character in his or her natural state before disruption. Then something happens that the character must respond to. There’s no going back from this something.
Such as, in Star Wars IV, we open with scenes of Luke Skywalker doing his thing as a farmer. The droids come, but that is just a part of his daily chores. The story hasn’t yet moved into reaction at this point. When Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed, THEN the story moves into reaction. There’s no going back from that something that just happened. Things will never be the same for Luke again. In the second half of the movie, he’s going to have to man up and fight back.
Specific Marks to Recognize in Setup and Reaction
Opening Scene – this is the very beginning of the book (obviously). But there are a lot of creative ways to do it. Take note of how other authors begin their stories. And maybe bookend it with the ending scene? Hm…
Plot Point One – this is the end of the setup. This is the something that causes the character’s life to change forever. The point of no return that accelerates the story into reaction mode.
Pinch Point One – somewhere in the reaction stage, the reader is going to get a glimpse of the antagonist. This is the villain’s introduction. Whether it’s a force or an individual. But ideally, the reader is just seeing the developing strength of the opposition. The full power comes after the midpoint.
Final Two Parts of a Book
Attack and Resolution
On the other side of the midpoint (also called the second plot point), the character moves out of the reaction stage and into the attack stage. One of my favorite examples of this from a book I’ve written is the moment of truth for my character Ariel. She overcame her abusive past that was holding her back. That was the midpoint. And it enabled her to have the strength she needed to start being victorious over the villain.
Then the story gains momentum until the final battle in the resolution phase and wrapping up in the closing scene.
Specific Marks to Recognize in Attack and Resolution
Pinch Point Two – this happens during the attack phase before the final battle, ideally. It’s the glimpse of the antagonist in all of his or her power that helps accelerate the plot to the final battle. The reader gets to see what the main character is going to have to face at the end, and it may seem impossible.
Plot Point Three – this is the moment when the character gets the final bit of courage or skill in order to win against the antagonist in the final battle. The third plot point is often so subtle it gets missed, so you may have to work harder to train your reading eyes to see this one.
Closing Scene – observe how a writer neatly ties things up. Or doesn’t. How does this compliment the opening scene? Or not?
Go Read For Research
Now that you have an idea of story structure, go grab a book and read. The best way to learn about how all of these story parts fit together is to begin recognizing it in stories.
Want to download all of these story structure points in an easy to read PDF? Click below.
P.S. I learned about story structure from Larry Brooks’ book Story Engineering. I highly recommend it if you want to go more in depth with story structure.