From the earliest times to the present, story structure has provided writers with the how and where to place content. Although there are different approaches to story structure, all teach generally the same storytelling theory. Exploring how you can structure a book improves the quality and speed of writing.
Table of Contents
Story structure is fundamental to meeting and exceeding audience expectations.
Examples of How to Structure a Book
In the links below, you’ll discover examples of how to structure a book. With a bit of internet elbow grease, you can find a synopsis of these approaches to storytelling.
- Freytag’s Pyramid
- Aristole’s concept of Beginning, Middle and End
- Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (i.e, The Hero’s Journey)
- Sad Field’s book Screenplay popularized The Three Act Structure
- Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
- Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet from Save the Cat!
- Dan Well’s version of the Seven-Point Story Structure
- Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method
- James Scott Bell’s Super Structure
- Lester Dent Formula
- John Truby’s 22-Step Structure in the Anatomy of Story
- Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey
- K. M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel
I suggest surveying the various methods to gain writing insights into the overlapping theories. With that said, however, if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the inconsistent terminology.
Storytelling Structure Patterns
After surveying the different approaches to story structure, I selected and studied books written by four teachers whose writing style and descriptions resonated with me. What I discovered suggested there were more structural commonalities than differences.
Check out the Books for Writers page and these respected writing teachers.
➨James Scott Bell:
- Super Structure
- Plot & Structure
- Save the Cat!
- Save the Cat! Strikes Back
- Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies
- Save the Cat! Blake’s Blog
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (by Jessica Brody)
- Anatomy of Story
➨K. M. Weiland:
- Structuring Your Novel
The Story Beats
Based on this research, I documented the common storytelling patterns in what I call the Story Beats.
Principles, Not Rules!
Please keep in mind the Story Beats represent general patterns, and authors are free to vary the locations and percentages. As principles, these beats are useful for interpreting and writing stories, but not as rules.
The Benefits of Using Story Beats
Story Beats synthesized the story patterns into a working framework with consistent terms, providing valuable benefits. For example:
- The framework inspires an understanding of classic storytelling structure.
- It helps writers satisfy audiences by including and arranging expected content.
- The structure gives writers guideposts and markers to measure story progress.
- It provides benchmarks writers can use to analyze and model masterworks.
- Using Story Beats helps writers repeat time-proven patterns of successful stories.
Story Beats Support 5-Step Storytelling
The writing of a full-length novel is a major project.
The Story Beats support 5-Step Storytelling.
- 8 of the Story Beats support the Story Spine, a solid foundation on which to build your story.
- As you flesh out the Story Body, each section links to one of the 18 beats.
- In preparation to write scenes, the Story Beats help you create detailed summary paragraphs.
Example of a Story Beat
The HOOK beat kicks off the story.
➨HOOK Is 0-1% of Story and a Single Scene
- The first scene introduces essential aspects of the story and grabs readers with an intense need to know what happens next.
- These critical details convey what the story is about, establish the actions required for upcoming events (e.g., characters and settings), and entertains (i.e., maintains readers’ interest).
- The HOOK is the first opportunity to make the hero appealing (i.e., likable), and he or she does something that humanizes the character. Likewise, the hero does something that hints at one or more of his or her flaws.
- Aside from grabbing readers’ attention, the HOOK starts the setup for the story in the stable world. This setup serves as the contrast to when the hero enters the unstable world in Act 2.
- To be clear, the HOOK is not the TRIGGER event, but it begins the setup for the core conflict.
➨HOOK’s Go/No Go Questions
Use these questions to evaluate your HOOK:
- Visual: Is the HOOK visual?
- Hint: Does the HOOK hint of the past (but avoids an information dump)?
- Narrative Drive: Does the scene instill in readers a need to know what happens next?
- Intrigue: Is the hero is worth getting to know?
- Flawed Hero: Is at least one of hero’s flaws shown, hinting of more issues?
- Genre: Does the HOOK establish the genre without giving away too much?
- Mood: Does the HOOK put readers in the right mood for the book’s genre?
- Sequence: Do readers sense this HOOK is before the TRIGGER event?
- Story Theme Motif: Is there a theme motif established in HOOK that will be mirrored at the RESOLUTION?
The questionnaire guides writers to summarize each scene. For example, the HOOK beat is a single scene that requires the following summaries:
- Outline the issues caused by Hero’s Fatal Flaw that create conflicts as the story unfolds.
- Create a paragraph that summarizes the HOOK scene.
After completing the questionnaire for all the Global Story Beats, your detailed answers help you create the actual scenes and scene sequences.
Story Beats Support the Story Arc
The Story Beats support the Story Arc from beginning to end.
Wrap Up: How You Structure a Book Influences Reader Satisfaction
Cultivating an understanding of how to structure a book serves as a keystone to turning your idea into a novel. For instance, your story’s structure influences reader satisfaction. For an overview of the Story Elements and 7-Step Storytelling, read A Hands-on Guide to Write a Story.
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What structure have you adopted and adapted to tell your stories? Do you use a writing app that supports your preferred story structure?