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2/20/2015

WritingQuestionsAnswered

Writing Questions Answered


Guide: Plot and Story Structure
skinful-sensationsasked:My problem is that I can write excellent descriptions, describe things in detail, etc.
But where I lack is structuring my stories. Making a plot, having internal and external conflicts, and
ESPECIALLY trying to build suspense, writing a successful climax and a non-everyone lives happily ever afterending. How can I fix this?
The key to tackling plot and story structure is to understand them. Essentially, plot iswhat happens and why it
happens, and story structure ishow it happens. There are a million ideas about how to do plot and story
structure right, so Ill just give you some basics and point you toward sources for different ideas.
Plot -First you need a sympathetic character. Next, something has to happen to that character, and then the
character needs to react. This is the conflict. Now, some say there are only 7 basic plots, others say 20, others
say 36. Regardless, all of these basic plots represent the reaction to something that happened to a character:
- Hero (the character), learns of evil threat (something happens), character sets out to destroy said evil
(reaction). Example: In theHarry Potter series,Harry finds out about Lord Voldemort and sets out to destroy
him.
- Poor guy (the character), comes into money somehow (something happens), blooms into wealthy person with
a different life (reaction). Example: InAnnie, a little orphan girl spends a few days with millionaire Daddy
Warbucks, ends up endearing herself to him, so he adopts her.
- Average girl (the character), ends up in a magic land (something happens), triumphs over ensuing madness
and finds her way home (reaction). Example: InAlices Adventures in Wonderland, Alice falls down the rabbit hole,
finds herself in Wonderland, escapes the clutches of the Queen of Hearts, and finds her way home a bit wiser
than before.
If time isnt a factor, pretend you are a camera crew and follow your character through his or her day (or week)
from the moment they wake up one morning. Write it all out like a story. What do they do? Where do they go?
Who do they talk to? What happens around them? What do they think about things? Often a plot, inner and
outer conflicts, and tension will develop organically if you let your characters speak to you.
Resources:
Basic Plot Brainstorming
20 Master Plot Exercises
25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story
Grabbing a Plot by the Horns
Conflict
Story Structure - now that you know what is going to happen and why, you need to figure out how it is going to
happen. This is where structure comes in handy. There are many templates for story structure. They all have
key elements in common, so you just have to find which one works best for you or the particular story youre
writing.
Im a fan of author Larry Brooks four box structure:
1) The Set-up - this is where the character is introduced, the stakes are established, the inciting incident takes
place, and the antagonist is introduced.
2) The Response - this is how the character reacts to the inciting incident, and where they determine a goal and
come up with a plan to achieve it. Then, at the last second, a wrench is thrown into the works.
3) The Attack - heres where the character tries to fix things (after the wrench) and moves forward with the
attempt to achieve their goal. The road is rocky at first, but then the last puzzle piece falls into place, and the
character can move forward full-speed ahead.
4) The Resolution - this is where the character achieves their goal, in at least some degree if not fully. No new
characters or information should enter from here on out, and the main character needs to be the main one
responsible for resolving the problem or achieving the goal.
As an example, lets look at Twilight(hey, its simple and most people know it. Also, spoiler warning if youve
been living in a cave):
Followwritingquestionsanswered
The set-up: We meet Bella (character is introduced), and we learn about her relationship with her parents
(stakes). Then she meets Edward and he saves her from an accident, which leads her to discover that he is a
vampire (inciting incident). Bella quickly learns that knowing about and being involved with vampires puts her

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in a lot of danger (antagonist). (Remember, antagonists dont have to be people.)
The Response: Bella pursues a friendship with Edward despite his warnings, and they eventually begin to date
(reaction). She decides that shed really like to become a vampire, too, someday (goal). Then they meet some
bad vampires, and Bellas life is in danger (wrench). Here Bellas goal changes to survival.
The Attack: the good vampires send Edward and Bella in opposite directions, hoping to distract the bad
vampire long enough to kill him (trying to fix things). Then Bella gets a call from the bad vampire who claims
he has her mom and is going to kill her if Bella doesnt come to him (stakes). So, Bella decides to sacrifice her
own safety so that her mother can live (trying to fix things herself), but it turns out he doesnt have her mother
and is going to have Bella for dinner.
The Resolution: the good vampires arrive just in time and kill the bad vampire. This would appear to be a
violation of the rule that the protagonist has to be primarily responsible for achieving the goal, butarguably it
could be said that Bellas hand in it was distracting him and leading them all to a place where they could gang
up on him and kill him. Also, they discover that Bella has been bitten by the bad vampire, which almost fulfills
her original goal of becoming a vampire, but alas, Edward has powerful sucking skills. Then they go to a dance.
Resources:
Larry Brooks Story Structure Series
Larry Brooks Story Structure Spreadsheet
The Four Story Structures That Dominate Novels
How to Structure a Story: The Eight Point Arc
Part II of this post: Suspense, Climax, and Ending

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21 Jul 2013

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