Whether you like to outline your stories or write by the seat of your pants, story structure helps you build a bridge between your imagination and reader expectations. Here are 7 tips on how you can structure your story.
1. Select a Story Structure
Story structure can make writing a novel feel more achievable, and writers can choose from many methods. For example, look at the structure of TYB’s Global Story Beats and How to Use Global Story Beats with Scrivener.
Also, explore the structures taught by these excellent teachers (learn more on the Books for Writers page):
- How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
- Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
- Save The Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
- Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland
- Super Structure by James Scott Bell
2. Choose a Method to Store Documents and Track Progress
Classic story structure spans three acts, with the second act divided into parts A and B. Whether you write on paper or use an app, you’ll need a place to store scenes arranged by story structure. The goal of your chosen method is to store, retrieve, and track documents.
Storing scenes can be as simple as placing printed pages into paper-based folders, saving files in a digital folder, or using an app like Scrivener that arranges scenes in the digital equivalent of a three-ring binder. Or you can go old-school and arrange your printed scenes into logical stacks on the floor.
3. Name and Index Scenes
When you write, things seem nice and tidy for the first few pages. Soon, keeping track of everything gets complicated. Coming up with an effective scene naming convention and tracking method can save you a lot of grief, especially as you later edit and rewrite.
Keep it simple by naming and color coding scenes and acts. For example, you can use colored highlighters and sticky notes to identify printed scenes, or use an app like Scrivener to name and color code each scene.
4. Build a Story Spine
You may have come across articles about the 5 or 7 part story structure. Before writing the first draft, I prefer starting with the Story Spine to identify the core. It’s an uncomplicated format:
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. But one day ___. Because of that, ___. Since that happened, ___. As a result of that, ___. Until finally ___. And ever since that day…
- Once upon a time… (1. HOOK)
- Every day,… (2. SETUP)
- But one day,… (3. TRIGGER)
- Because of that,… (5. THRUST INTO 2)
Since that happened,… (9. MIDPOINT)
As a result of that,… (13. PLUNGE INTO 3)
Until finally,… (17. CLIMAX)
In another post on rapid outlining techniques, I’ll show how to expand the Story Spine into the Story Body, matching the Global Story Beats one for one.
5. Record and Track Metadata
Stories move forward based on crucial story elements, such as antagonists, protagonists, conflicts, stakes, setting, and theme. Those elements are referred to as metadata.
While structure guides the placement of story elements, it’s the tracking of metadata that helps you refine your approach and understand the ripple effect edits and revisions have on other parts of your story. An app like Scrivener excels at recording and tracking metadata.
6. Understand Scene Structure and Sequencing
As you revise and rewrite, rearrange scenes into the order that best conveys your story to readers. Following a guide like Global Story Beats will help; however, writers must decide what’s the best sequencing for their stories.
To move a scene in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages requires a cut-and-paste process. In contrast, Scrivener’s design makes it easy to rearrange scenes within the digital three-ring binder.
7. Select Point of View (POV)
The right mixture of methods helps you engage and hold readers’ attention. Writers control when and where they use these techniques.
Story Structure’s Secret
If you’re new to the story structure, these 7 tips on how you can structure your story will help you get started. The key is to adopt and use a structure that fits your writing style and genre.
The secret to putting the story structure to work is consistency. Then, the only surprises your readers will receive are those twists you planned!