"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: How to Structure a Story

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Structure a Story

Dear Fellow Writer,

I've been building a free app for mobiles and tablets.

To be honest it's a bit of challenge for me - and is probably a bit of a mess at the moment. I'd like your feedback.

If you want, you can see what I have so far HERE.

(Only click on the link if you're using a mobile or a tablet!)

Keep writing!
Write From the Start


How to Structure a Story

Rob Parnell
Easy Way to Write subscribers often ask me if there's a structure they can use for stories that works pretty much every time.

Yes, would be my answer. I suggest a few in my genre writing courses - but there's always room for flexibility and a degree of originality. 

Plus, you often need to come up with something yourself before you have any real attachment to it.

Having said that, here's the process I often use for constructing a story.

Generally I'll come up with an idea or something interesting will occur to me - usually a character in an interesting situation against a backdrop (a setting.) 

The character and the backdrop are usually the easy bit - a person in a place or at a particular moment in time. 

It's the interesting situation that's usually the inspired bit - and the reason for wanting to tell the story.

Often there's not enough in the initial idea to fill out a whole story, so where do I go from there?

Well, I know that the character most likely has an issue that needs resolving - and will face a series of obstacles to that resolution. 

But what will the obstacles be?

Next I brainstorm - and try to think of scenarios that either help or hinder the main character's journey through the story. 

I like to come up with other characters that will make the story more interesting - in that they have agendas at odds with the main character.

This makes the hero's quest more difficult and therefore the resolution hopefully more satisfying.

Plotting should always be character driven. 

I never plot in a vacuum or try to force a plot onto a character - that way madness lies - and stories that won't work. 

Besides, letting your characters plot your stories is so much easier.

You just need to ask, "What would they do now?" and make note of the answer. 

And then, "What now?" and keep going until the 'end' of the story.

Finally, when I'm convinced I've thought of all the angles on the story - and rejected the ones that don't seem to further the story or act as diversions from the main point - I'm ready to begin writing.

Not everyone works this way. 

Indeed, I don't work this way on all of my stories - just the ones that need expanding. 

But at some point before the actual writing, I believe the structure of the story should be in place - even if only in its vaguest form.

When it comes to structure I write down headlines that I will later expand into paragraphs or whole sections. 

The headlines are easy to manage because if I have say 20 or 25, I can juggle them (cutting and pasting on a Word doc) until I have them in the most pleasing and logical order: the order that makes sense of, and enhances the main story idea.

The hardest part is resolving all - or at least most - of the character's agendas in the last part of the story. 

Now, many writers choose to resolve everything after the climax but this is where I differ I think. 

Because what I like to do is make the climax of the story the very reason why the character's agendas are resolved.

It's really worthwhile brainstorming a story to make sure this happens. 

It gives a 'point' to the story in a way that simply relating words  and clunky messages disguised as plot cannot.

To me this makes the climax not only exciting and meaningful in the context of the characters - but also more satisfying to a reader. 

It also means I don't have to waste words after the climax 'winding down' and tying up all those loose threads.

I hope this (very) little explanation of how I sometimes structure stories helps you in your own work.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home

"The trouble with the well-trodden path is that there's usually a logjam of people in your way."
Rob Parnell

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