How do you structure your story? It seems the possibilities are endless, and sometimes having that many options can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve collected resources on structuring your novel.
These structures are not hard and fast rules, but they can be helpful if you’re having trouble figuring out how to structure your story.
Some tips before we go into the structures…
Focus on your character’s inner journey
Sometimes structure can be found by pursuing the arc of your character’s development. This is a great place to start for more character-driven stories, and it can add an emotional heart to a more plot-driven story
Try writing a query letter
Writing out a query letter with your proposal may help you focus your story before you start it.
Write a synopsis
The dreaded synopsis can actually be a great way to figure out your story before you go through the long process of outlining or writing.
Get your outline checked before you go into the story
Explain your outline to a friend or have them read over it. It’s likely they’ll find mistakes in your timeline that you wouldn’t have noticed.
Now, some structure recommendations…
This structure focuses on the beginning, middle, and end.
Named by Joseph Cambell, this classic twelve-step structure involves a hero leaving their everyday world, heading out into the unknown, and returning triumphant over the odds. Examples include The Lego Movie and Star Wars.
This one’s by Horror writer Dan Wells. It’s seven stages of pinch points and hooks.
- Hook, or starting point
- Plot turn one – the events that set the story in motion
- Pinch point one – where you introduce tension/the antagonist
- Midpoint, where you character stops being reactive and becomes active to solve the story’s central problem
- Pinch point two – where you pile on the pressure and looks as if all is lost
- Plot turn two – your character discovers the information they need to compete the action they decided on at the midpoint
- Resolution – the climax of the story where the character succeeds (or fails, depending on the ending you want) at what they set out to achieve.
exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
With this structure, you start with one central idea and systematically add more ideas.
- Write a one-sentence summary of your novel
- Expand this into a full paragraph summary, detailing major events
- Write a one-page summary for each character
- Expand each sentence in #2 into a paragraph summary
- Write a one-page account of the story from the perspective of each major character
- Expand each paragraph you wrote for #4 into a full page synopsis
- Expand your character descriptions into full character charts
- Using the summary from #6, list every scene you’ll need to finish the novel
- Write a multi-paragraph description for each scene
- Write your first draft
Bell discusses this concept in his book Plot and Structure.
- A Disturbance early in the story upsets the status quo—anything that threatens the protagonist’s ordinary life.
- Doorway 1 propels your character to the middle of the story. Once he goes through this door, there’s no turning back.
- Doorway 2 leads to the final battle. It’s another door of no return but usually leads to disaster.
Remember that structures are not set in stone. You can try one of these and if it doesn’t work for your story, toss it. Be flexible as your work progresses. You never know what you’ll come up with next.