That's right, I'm at it again-- extolling the virtues of story structure. But let's get clear on one thing: by STORY STRUCTURE I don't necessarily mean PRE-PLOTTING YOUR BOOK.
That's what I used to think about dreaded "plotting." How can I possibly be a plotter instead of a pantser? I wondered. I don't know what to plan until I've written it. I read about things like the snowflake method and still felt lost. It wasn't until I read Larry Brooks' Story Engineering that I finally got it. Planning meant hitting specific points in story structure-- and I just didn't quite understand what those points were.
The most common form of story structure in Western culture is the 3 act structure. I did a detailed post about that here, but let's simplify for this post. At its most basic, story structure is this: 1) the character meets opposition/antagonist and makes a goal to defeat it, 2) the character fails to achieve the goal, 3) the character succeeds and beats the antagonist.
To break it down a little further, author Dan Wells uses what he calls 7 point story structure, which touches all the basic points of the 3 act system. Basically, your book should hit these 7 points for optimum reader satisfaction.
Hook: What draws the reader in; it sets your character in a position opposite of where they'll be at the end.
Plot Turn 1: The call to adventure-- the story really beings and there's no turning back for the character. (about 1/3 of the way through the book)
Pinch 1: The stakes heat up; more danger/pressure is introduced.
Midpoint: The character discovers something new that allows them to move from reaction to action against the antagonist. (The middle of the book, obviously.)
Pinch 2: The stakes heat up again; often, something big is lost. (Often called the "all is lost" moment.)
Plot Turn 2: The character learns the final information to destroy the antagonist, often at great personal cost. (about 2/3 of the way through the book)
Resolution: The character saves the day.
Does this mean you have to plan out each of these points-- and all the scenes between-- before writing your book? Nope. Once you understand structure, you will start to do it instinctively as you write. And the more you learn, the more you find you can expand from that. For example, Dan Wells once mentioned how he tried to use the structure of a musical fugue to write one of his books (it didn't end up working for that story, but it could for another).
Here's the gist: structure makes for a more satisfying story. Don't be afraid of it, and don't be afraid it makes for a formulaic story. Listen to your favorite song-- it has a structure too. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Of course, that often varies, and some do away with it altogether. But the structure doesn't destroy the song or take away its beauty and individuality.
So, my friends, here's a challenge. Go watch your favorite TV show or movie. Try to pinpoint each of the seven points above. The more you see it in the stories around you, the better you'll understand it, and the better your stories will get. And tell me-- what are your thoughts about story structure? Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you use a type of structure, even unconsciously? Any questions about story structure?