Tag: structure

#Amwriting October 9: Structure 2: Formula or Flexible

We’ve covered The Hero’s Journey and  three act story structure. Now let’s spend one more day on structure and look at some other options.

As we discussed, for NaNoWriMo you might not have a lot of time to think about structure because you are writing like crazy. Plus, you can certainly add structure during your revision. On the other hand, if you get stuck wandering in a swampy middle, knowing some structural destination points might be the lifeline you need to succeed.

Here are a few of the more common structures. Some are rigid templates and some are more flexible. See if one works for you.

Four Act Structure

The four act structure is an extension of the three act structure that works well for mysteries. John P. Murphy’s article describes how it works.  He calls it a “two body plot” because the discovery of the body of a victim is a major turning point. Finding the second body changes things again. The third turn comes at the reveal, when the murderer is caught. Otherwise, it is a pretty loose structure.

Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot Structure

Modified from the Hero’s Journey structure, this one holds your hand as it walks you through your novel. Michael Hague includes specific numbers in the form of percentages to indicate where the structural elements should be added. For example, he says turning point one should occur 10% into the novel. He calls the stages:

  1. Set up
  2. New situation
  3. Progress
  4. Complications and higher stakes
  5. Final push
  6. Aftermath

Janice Hardy explains that the Six Stage Structure can be good for people who don’t want to outline.

Seven Point Structure

The points are:

  1. Hook
  2. Plot turn 1
  3. Pinch 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2
  6. Plot turn 2
  7. Resolution


Dan Wells of Writing Excuses Podcast explains this structure in series of videos ( playlist). He uses clear examples to demonstrate how it works.

Tip:  Dan suggests starting at the end — at the resolution — rather than at the beginning. Great idea.

Eight Point Story Arc

Daily Writing Tips has a brief discussion of the eight point arc (developed by Nigel Watts and S. May), naming each step. Some of the steps are similar to the seven point structure, but have different names, which may make them easier to understand. For example, what is called “plot turn 1” in the seven point structure is called a “trigger” in the eight point.

The eight points  are:

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3. The quest
  4. Surprise
  5. Critical choice
  6. Climax
  7. Reversal
  8. Resolution

Save the Cat Beat Sheets

Save the Cat came out of screenwriting, but people have found it works for novels, too.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need* by Jessica Brody

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Janice Hardy discusses the main steps. In this case the turning point events are called ‘beats.” Each one is pretty specific.

Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock

Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock is a four act roadmap for a novel set up in quarters, like a clock. It has some of the same elements as the others, but the timing is a bit different.


Yesterday you worked on your inciting incident, a common element in most of these structures. Now take Dan Wells’ advice and work on your resolution. Do you want a happy ending? A not so happy ending? Does the couple live happily ever after? Are the space nodules defeated? Is the serial killer caught?

Note:  Not everyone wants to know how their novel is going to turn out. That’s okay, too. Spend your time watching the Dan Wells videos instead.

Now that you know about structure, do you think you will use one? If so, which structure intrigues you?



Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 8: Discussing Plot and Structure

Continuing our  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) preparation series, it is time to explore the differences between Plot and Structure and look at some examples.

Do you need to know your plot and structure before starting NaNoWriMo? Of course not.

It does help, however, to have an idea what plot and structure are and what some of your choices might be. Then if you get stuck in the middle, you have some ideas of where you should go next.


People often use the words plot and story structure interchangeably (I have been guilty of that myself), but there are distinctions.

Plot is what happens in the story, or saying it another way, the events that make up the story.

Structure is the mechanics or how you lay out your story. It is the design.

To use an analogy of a tent, plot is like the cloth, which can be made up of different colors, patterns, and types of material. Structure is the underlying frame, the supports and poles and such. Using the same cloth, but different structures, you might end up with a pup tent, a dome tent, a geodesic tent, a circus tent, party tent, bell tent, etc. I think you get the idea.



Plot 101

Although in reality there can be any number of plots, scholars have come up with general plot types or categories. Studying these general plot types can help you understand the reader’s expectations for your story. You can decide either to include all the traditional elements and ensure your plot meets those expectations, or if you are brave, you can blow them up by defying the expectations and turn them on their head.

One of the more popular way to label plots is from The Seven Basic Plot Points: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker.

  1. Rags to Riches (Cinderella)
  2. Overcoming the Monster (Jaws) -also called Underdog
  3. The Quest (Indiana Jones)
  4. The Voyage and Return (Lord of the Rings) – Hero’s Journey fits this
  5. Rebirth (A Christmas Carol)
  6. Comedy (Any novel with humor and a happy ending)
  7. Tragedy (MacBeth)

Mark Nichol has a good general discussion of “Types of Plots” at Daily Writing Tips. There are many more articles online, but Darcy Pattison has a list of 29 Plots that can get you started.

Plotto by William Wallace Cook (1928) has a complicated system to generate any number of plots, mostly romances. The language is dense and somewhat outdated, but could be a gold mine for story ideas if you have the time.

Structure 101

Structure Tip:  The most important thing to keep in mind is don’t try to support your plot with a structure that doesn’t fit. Plot and structure should go together easily.

Some Examples:

The simplest structure for a story is the Three Act Structure.

In Act 1, we have the set-up where we learn about the character(s), the setting, and the character’s desire. Usually there is also some sort of inciting incident to get the protagonist on the move.

Act 2 is often the longest of the three acts (they don’t have to be equal length). It is typically filled with conflict, giving rise to a big crisis.

The conclusion arrives in Act 3. There may be a final push or revelation, but the ending is resolution of some sort.

You may have learned Freytag’s Pyramid in school. It is a type of Three Act Structure.

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action, climax, falling action
  3. Denouement or resolution

Some structures are genre specific, such as for a mystery or romance, and won’t work well for other genres. We’ll discuss some genre-specific structures later.

Exercise:  Regardless of what structure you choose, it will likely contain an inciting incident, which is an event towards the beginning of the story that starts your protagonist on his/her/their way. Think of it as a door or gateway that once the protagonist goes through, there is no turning back or stopping, for that matter.

Think about what might be inciting incidents in your story. Make a list of 5 or more possibilities (because we often list the most obvious first and the more creative ones after those are written down). Pick one or two to develop into a scene.


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