I talked a while back about two of the building blocks of any story – character and plot – probably the first elements we think about when we’re starting to write something new. This week I’m talking about the next important step in the process – structure.
Structure is essentially the design of the story. We start, of course, with the big BME – Beginning, Middle and End. But even when we know where our story starts and what happens in the end, sorting out that creamy middle might take a bit more work.
As with so many elements of writing, there are countless schools of thought when it comes to structure. Some of these are well-developed and documented, others just being explored and coming to the fore now.
All Write’s Fiction Advice page goes into the basics of structuring a story, telling us essentially what happens at the beginning (setup, outline of tone and characters, introduction of major conflict), middle (broadening of conflict and major life changes) and end (overcome of ultimate obstacle, climax and conclusion) of our novel or script.
One of my favourite methods of structuring is what’s known as the Eight Point Arc. As suggested by the name, it uses eight very specific steps to set out the turning points in a story. This process is described in detail in Nigel Watts’ book ‘Writing A Novel and Getting Published’ but, over on DailyWritingTips, Ali Hale goes through the broad strokes of the eight steps, Stasis, Trigger, The quest, Surprise, Critical choice, Climax, Reversal and Resolution. This is a fantastic method for anyone starting out writing their first novel, script or short story.
Novelist and writing teacher Debbie Ann Wesselman also gives us some great advice on her website about what we should be thinking about when we’re structuring our story. In this succinct guide to structure, Debbie makes the very valid point that a story’s impact depends as much on the order of the content as the content itself.
As I mentioned above, there are some established methods, which have been developed, adopted and improved over the years by successful writers. One of the best known of these is the Snowflake method, which essentially suggests that a writer would start off with the most basic kernel of an idea and then expand it to create a more detailed and nuanced story.
Designer of the Snowflake, Randy Ingermanson, has been putting it good use since he developed it, using it to write six award-winning novels. Randy gives us the low-down on how it works, including a step-by-step guide to putting the Snowflake method into effect.
He has also developed Snowflake Pro, a software program we can use to design the structure of our next novel, using the Snowflake method.
One of the most important parts of any story is, of course, the ending. The climax, final act, conclusion, whatever you want to call it – if it doesn’t work, or excite, or leave the reader with that little smile on their face, then all the work you’ve done in the set up and introduction at the start and the rip-roaring journey through the middle will be for nothing. Writers’ Digest recognises that the structure of that final act is all-important and they know the difficulty we writers sometimes have with nailing it. On their website, they offer some invaluable advice on structuring the perfect ending.
‘A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end…but not necessarily in that order.’ – Jean-Luc Godard.
All Write Fiction Advice on the basics of structuring.
“Writers can choose to follow these principles and become better writers, or they can ignore them at their own peril and languish on the slush pile.”
Eight is Great.
DailyWritingTips takes us through the Eight-Point-Arc, an excellent structuring method for writers starting out.
“Watts’ very useful “Eight-Point Story Arc” is a fool-proof, fail-safe and time-honoured way to structure a story.”
Short and Sweet.
Writing teacher Debbie Ann Wesselman’s succinct guide to story-structuring.
“Aspiring writers would be well advised to analyze professionally written fiction to determine the effect of the structure.”
Is it Snowing?
Writer and designer of the Snowflake structuring technique Randy Ingermanson tells us how the method works.
“Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed.”
And To Make Our Lives Even Easier…
Randy has developed software SnowFlake Pro to help us design our next novel.
“The good news is that I’ve written software to make it as simple and fun as I know how to work through the Snowflake method.”
All Good Things…
Writers’ Digest guide to structuring that perfect ending to our story.
“Then we come to Part 4: the finale of your story. And guess what? There is no blueprint for it. And no rules, either. Well, OK, there’s one.”