Friday, February 14, 2014

Story structure, part 2

It’s been said that there are only a few basic plots in all of literature. Every other story is a variation on these plots. Oodles of writers have penned zillions of stories, all different and unique. 

Yet the best of them follow a specific pattern. This post is a continuation on last week’s discussion of story structure. John Truby (Anatomy of Story) lists twenty-two elements of successful stories. KM Weiland (Structuring Your Novel) boiled Truby’s down to ten, the last five of which are below.

The First Half of the Second Act: The second act is where the MC reacts to the first plot point. Up until that point, life for the MC was steady and predictable. Now the MC has had his life upended. The second act is a series of events dictated by how all the characters react and counter-react to various events. Equally important here is how the antagonist shows their strength in thwarting the protagonist. Half-way through the first act comes the midpoint. This is a second inciting incident which changes the MC from reactive to proactive. After reacting to interference by the antagonists, MCs here go on the offensive and move into attach mode.

The Second Half of the Second Act: After the midpoint, things should start to heat up in your story. Your MC is becoming someone new, realizing his power and discovering what he can do with it. He’s finding strength to do battle in spite of inner conflicts that may be getting in the way.  He may not be in control of his destiny but at lest he’s doing something about his lack of control. Characters should grow and change and the second act is where that change is orchestrated so that it doesn’t abruptly appear in the third act. The second pitch point occurs here at which point the antagonist shows his power and potential ability to defeat the protagonist.

Third Act: The last quarter of the book is short, yet a lot has to happen in it. Act 3 is what the story’s been building up to all along. All character arcs are satisfied, subplots tied up, foreshadowing fulfilled, protagonist and antagonist plans played out, the MC’s inner demons faced. It opens with a bang and never lets up until final resolution. The writer must be cruel author must throw down every obstacle; all seems lost until MC rises from the ashes with wisdom and a new inner strength. 

Climax: As dramatic events have been happening all along, and racketed up in the third act, the climax is the final thrust of the MC to accomplish all of their objectives. The reader wants a satisfactory ending, one they can say, “yep, that’s just how it should have ended.” Weiland goes one step further. Contrary to the inevitability a good ending can fulfill, she says a story should end with the unexpected. Rising from a logical extension of things foreshadowed, you also want the reader to say, “wow, did not see that one coming.” Again, it must make sense to the story and can not be pulled out of nowhere.

Resolution: After the climax comes the bittersweet moment of the resolution. It is where the writer says goodbye to their characters and where the reader says goodbye as well. After the emotional stress of the third act and climax, they want to see the MC rise up and move on with life. They want to see how the ordeal has changed the MC and glimpse of the new life the character will live now. And if you’ve done your job right, says Weiland, readers will want to linger just a moment longer with the characters they’ve come to love.

Take a look at your WIP. Which stage is it at right now?

(This article also posted at

(This article also posted at

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