• Stuart White

#WriteMentor - Post #5 - Story Structure

I've covered the query/submission package in an earlier post, but over the next couple of weeks, many of you will receive request for your full manuscript.

Why do we need this when we've already seen your whole story in the synopsis and seen the quality of our writing in chapter 1?

Well, we can assess both things, to an extent, in the sample you sent us. But we need to see if you can sustain a complete story arc over 300 pages, or if you can write scene-by-scene arcs, constantly and with the same level of competence that we saw in chapter 1.

It's a very common thing to have really polished chapters 1-3 and then the rest is not as finely tuned. I am guilty as hell at this. When I was pre-agented, I got so many full requests because I worked so hard on those chapters, then when I sent the full I got the same number of rejections because I failed to continue with the same precision, the same tension, the same quality and the same structure throughout.

So, what changed for me? Well, I did some courses, a whole ton of reading on craft generally, but also story structure specifically. (I'll list some good resources at the end of this post). I made sure I knew how story structure worked by applying what I'd learned to films, tv series (and the best tv series really are masters of story structure!) and books. It made a significant difference and improvement to my whole finished manuscript. So much so, that I sent out the same novel, with significant changes in structure, a year after a ton of rejections and finally signed with my agent, then my publisher.

So, what are the main things to look out for to ensure your story has a good structure?

Well, there's so many variations on this, from what I've read, and not every story exactly follows any of these -

- 3 ACTS

- 6 ACTS

- Freytag’s Model

- Heroes Journey

- 16 point-planner (thanks Writers HQ!)

- and loads more!

Credit - Ingrid Sundberg 2013

Credit - helpingwritesbecomeauthors.com

But it all basically boils down to having 'main events' in your story. Here are the ones I always look out for.

• Exposition. Characters, setting and all the world-building details that allows your reader to 'get into' the book. They need to know who they are following, where they are and what they want.

• Call-To-Action. Often people say this is only for SFF novels, but it's in everything - it might be the first time you meet the love interest in a romance novel, or when the detective is given the case in a thriller. It's the moment the MC's life changes forever. They have to make a choice to continue or give up. (Spoiler alert - in any good novel, they always continue!)

• Rising Action. This is the series of conflicts and obstacles which get in the way of the MC on their 'journey' to getting what they want/need.

• Crises. The parts where the conflict tension is very high. Some structures will have lots of mini-crises and others will have a gradually increasing scale of crises.

• Climax. This is the moment where everything comes to a head. Sometime called to the lowest moment, where the biggest conflict and/or obstacle is preventing our MC from getting what they want and they must overcome their biggest flaw in order to achieve this.

• Falling Action. Where all the story threads are sown together and may be resolved. Sometimes, this is where twists will come.

• Journey Home. Again, usually for SFF, but I'd argue this can be found in most stories. The exit from where the climax occurred.

• Resolution. Where the largest and most prominent story threads are all resolved. The HEA or the detective closes the file.

Jane Friedmann does a nice post on this.

Here are a couple more story structure shapes.

Credit - @cwodtke

So, find the structure which best suits your story, but get a structure. It makes life so much easier for you, and for the reader. Readers come to expect a bit of formula but with a twist.

More of the same, but different. Easy enough, right?

Here's the resources as promised -

- Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them by John Yorke

- The Ultimate Hero's Journey: 195 Essential Plot Stages Found in the Best Novels and Movies by Neal Soloponte

- Writing the Breakout Nove by Donald Maass

- https://writershq.co.uk/plotstormers/ - a course which taught me so much about plotting a novel.

Hope this has been of some help. If nothing else, I love looking at story structure arcs and graphs…ah, so pretty...