Friday, January 24, 2014

Understanding the Importance of Story Structure

Lately I've been reading like a mad woman. Indie titles are always my go-to on the old Kindle shelf, but I'm seeing a bit of an alarming trend.

There's little to no structure in the storyline, especially in a series.

For our planner writers (or plotters), this comes as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. But pantsers ... not so much. Panters love the freedom of allowing a story to unfold. They love letting the characters guide the story. It feels like somehow channeling that inner genius, right?

That is, until your genius goes on crack and leads you on a freaking wild goose chase, causing enough loops and dips in the story to give the LA's crazy interchange a run for its money.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a panster at heart. But even the most authentic writers need to figure out the basics of their story before plowing through a plotline.

And no, you can't chop a 250K manuscript in thirds and call it a "series." That's how Kindles get flung across rooms and your name becomes a curse on the lips of readers everywhere.


Because it's ingrained in our DNA that every story must have one thing:

A beginning
A middle
and an end

Whether it's a short story, a novella, a serial that is part of a continuing saga, or a full blown novel, there must be a beginning, a middle, and an end for every section that is published.

Please forgive the caveman quality of the graphics below, but I'm working with a program that Bill Gates used as a teething ring.

At any rate, here's a standard story structure format that's been around for thousands of years. Having a basic understanding of this type of structure allows the reader to have a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the book.

Taking a sec to use this simple tool for your stand alone work alleviates hours of frustration for you, not to mention your content editor. :-)

So how does this structure vary for a series? 

It doesn't. 

Take a look at the chart below. 

Each book within the series must have its own 3 act structure. However, we have two conflicts going on in each work. One for the book's main conflict, and one conflict that spans the series. 

Here's what that looks like: 

While there are different types of series (which we'll explore another day) this is the basic premise of the structure needed. If you are hell-bent-for-glory to create a series from that idea churning in your head, please take a sec and plot out the major points in the story using this guide. 

When authors don't take the time to plan their story out, here's what generally happens. 

Instead of the series umbrella being used as an organized common thread, it's become a catch-all for those moments when your characters take a left turn into crazyville, leaving you with a vomtous mass of garbled words and a spaghetti bowl for a plot line. 

Now I ask you, which one would you rather read?