If all stories were as simple as a beginning, middle and end, then writing a novel would be easy. They would also be a bit dull, which is why longer stories are structured to include sub plots. Yes, there is still a beginning, middle and end, but it’s not quite as simple as that. There must be difficulties to overcome, disasters to avoid and other such complications along the way.
When discussing story structure recently, Fleur Sinclair introduced me to the Harmon story circle. Dan Harmon claims his theory will work for any and every story and that he bases his writing on this every time he creates a new script.
What makes more sense to me though is the three act structure, also shared by Fleur at my writing group. Here you can still see your basic beginning, middle and end, but with sub plots woven in. It shows the rising action of the story and how it leads eventually to a satisfying ending. Visually, this works better for me as a model than the story circle.
I know many people set off writing their novel without planning, but I think it takes a certain person to be able to do that. Creating all the intricacies and tension along the way is difficult, even if you have in mind your beginning, middle and end. These bits can also make or break your story and without a certain level of planning, it can be easy to get lost in the middle of your story and so weaken their effect.
If you are writing a story at the moment, can you fit it in to these models? If not, is that ok, or should you be asking yourself why not?
I am in the middle of a re-write at the moment and I found I was getting a little lost, even though I have planned the story. The point is, I am re writing it because I want to make sure that I create the right amount of tension, weave in enough sub plots to keep the readers guessing and also to make them care about the characters.
I used the three act structure to check that my story is going in the right direction. I needed to take a little step back in order to re-focus and it showed that my structure is fine but I need to work a little more on the motivations of my characters. It’s a question of the ‘why’s’ and not the ‘what’s’. People need to believe that your characters have a true-to-life motivation for doing what they are doing.
It’s hard, but no one ever said it was easy. Here is a PDF version of the three act structure that allows you to fill in the details of your own story. Use it to see how it fits in to this common story structure and hopefully it will help you if you are struggling to iron out any plot difficulties.
For now, it’s back to the writing for me…
Sharing this for What I’m Writing.