Yesterday we explored how to develop the plot of your novel. Today we are going to cover story structure. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I just want to state again that plot is the physical aspects of your novel and story structure is based around emotional and character development.
Traditionally, story structure follows a path of rising action building up to a climax, which is then followed by a catharsis. A catharsis is a release of emotional tension that refreshes the spirit. Or in literary terms, it is a sound resolution to your book that leaves your readers satisfied and content. So how do you follow this guideline of creating tension in the lead up to a climax, followed by a cathartic resolution? This is where plotting and structuring come in handy. And it is not a matter of simply writing it out once, but building upon your idea in several stages until you have a fully developed story outline.
The Dramatic Elements of Story Structure.
There are four dramatic elements that underpin your novel and identifying them is the first step to develop your story structure. The four dramatic elements are passion, theme, character and premise. When these elements are properly defined and utilized they form a cohesive powerful force that pulls the reader in and keeps them interested in your story. The four dramatic elements are:
Passion: The more deeply you feel about your writing subject, the better you are able to convey that passion and emotion to your readers.
Theme: From your passion you will develop your theme. Theme is the message you would like to share with your readers.
Character: The best way to convey your theme is through your characters. Your main character is plagued by an inner conflict that drives your story and highlights your theme.
Premise: Is what propels your story from start to finish. It combines your main characters flaw and the theme of your story to create a single short question: “what if…..?”
Tomorrow we will discuss The Dramatic Elements in more detail.
The next stage in developing your story structure is to construct a brief story outline. The easiest way to do this is to use the 3-act structure. Initially it is best to keep the first draft of your outline as short as possible; one sentence per checkpoint is a great place to start.
So what is the 3-act structure? It is exactly what it sounds like, a breakdown of your story into 3 acts! Each act then contains 3 checkpoints, which aim to incorporate all your important plot and story points into a logical outline. This breakdown into 3-acts, or 9 checkpoints, help you to design a story outline that follows the path of building tension until you reach a climax and then a resolution to your novel.
Hook: An interesting event that draws in your reader and opens your story.
Backstory: This is where the main character and setting is established.
Trigger: This is usually an intense event that pushes your main character into a crisis.
Crisis: Can be emotional or physical crisis that is based around your character’s flaw.
Struggle: More obstacles your main character must overcome to resolve the dilemma.
Epiphany: This is where your main character realizes what is holding them back from a resolution.
Plan: Your main character devises a plan to overcome the dilemma.
Climax: The final confrontation.
Ending: The dilemma is resolved.
You can find a blank 3-act worksheet in Learning Tools that you can print off and use to help you develop your story. I have also written out an example of the 3-act structure using The Wizard of Oz as inspiration.
Now that you have plotted each of the nine checkpoints you can begin to flesh out the rest of your story into a short story form. This is the third stage in building your story and bringing your novel to life. To do this, you incorporate all your nine checkpoints from the 3-act structure into a few paragraphs that essentially describes your story in more detail. You can also add in the points from your 5 or 3 element plot structure. This way you are incorporating the physical and emotional aspects of your story. You add in more characters, sub-plots and key details. Keep in mind, that this is all in short form so that you can still fix flaws in your story or chop and change without having to re-write huge parts of your novel. It can also be helpful to give some one else this short story form so they can provide you with feedback and constructive criticism. It is a scary thought to give someone your story before you have actually written it, however it can help having a fresh pair of eyes look over your plot and structure. They may see inconsistencies or weak parts to your story that you missed. It will help you to build a strong, emotive story that will stay in your readers mind long after they have finished reading your book.
Helpful links for Story Structure.
I have found the following sites offer great tips and advice on story structure.
All of this plotting and planning may feel like it hinders your creativity, if that’s the case then you do not need to follow this structured way of writing. But once you have finished all this planning, you can go on to write from your heart and finish your novel.
That concludes the second post in the Build Your Novel Blog Series. Please come back and check out tomorrow’s post on The Dramatic Elements. It provides more detail on each element and how to incorporate them into your novel.