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Another Approach to Story Structure

Banes at 12:00AM, March 16, 2023

I'm a big fan of story structure. It can be a big help to figuring out how to put a story together in a way that works. Not that structure needs to be followed in a slavish way, or that one structure applies to every story.
But it can help.

The book “Fantasy Fiction Formula” advises testing your story premise like this -

When A SITUATION happens, a PROTAGONIST embarks on their OBJECTIVE. But will they be able to achieve it when THE ANTAGONIST forces the STORY CLIMAX?

These two sentences, once the blanks are filled in, also works as a story blurb - something that might appear on the back of a novel, or advertisement for the story.

The SITUATION is the thing that happens to upset the status quo.
The PROTAGONIST is the main character.
The OBJECTIVE is the story goal.
The OPPONENT is the Antagonist - the one working against the Protagonist.
The CLIMAX is the final struggle at the end of the story.

So some sample plot sentences would be these:

But can he save his daughter's life when

I guess Buck has two daughters and Senator Smith will force a choice. This was off the top of my head and
I wanted to think of the ultimate conflict for the climax.

Another one might be something like this…

When her powers are taken from her, Good Witch Mari
investigates the cause in order to find a cure.
But can she regain her abilities and save the city she loves
when Bad Witch Vera forces a battle to the death between them?

Hmm…I guess this one ends with a depowered good witch fighting a powered bad witch? That could be cool.

Anyway, this is an approach I haven't tried yet in order to write a story…it seems like a good approach to testing a story idea to see how solid it is.

“Fantasy Fiction Formula” is by author Deborah Chester.

See you next time!

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PaulEberhardt at 5:18AM, March 17, 2023

I think it's a good thing to have a simple, basic concept like this up your sleeve for doing a quick check every now and then. All the other things to flesh out the story, as mentioned by marcorossi and DylanTale Comics are of course fundamental for making it great, and I also tend to think that a really good story is one that can't be summarised in a single sentence once it's done, BUT a basic guideline like this in the back of your mind is an extremely handy safeguard against getting lost in these details during the writing process. Think of it as the two basic anchoring threads of a spider web; Boris the Spider will always start with a straight one to hold the thing in place and then create a Y with another to define the shape of the intricate web that comes afterwards, the cool thing glittering in the morning sun. The original two threads are hard to spot in that glorious view, but cut one and the whole thing will collapse. Cut any other and you get only relatively minor damage.

DylanTale Comics at 9:23AM, March 16, 2023

For me, I view this approach as "Great start, but then what?" What happens after the climax, after the problem is solved? Does the adventure end there, or does an even bigger situation (or antagonist) rise up? If the latter happens, what happens then? And if it is a cycle of "solve problem, bigger one is formed", what would the true ending ultimate climax look like? For me and my comic, each set usually focuses on that usual-sized problem and solution as this template describes. But, I already have in mind a much bigger situation that, in the final Set 4, will be explored and result in that epic climax.

marcorossi at 5:09AM, March 16, 2023

IMO it is better to reserve the concept of "story structure" for more detailed stuff like the "beats". This kind of very simplified formula is really too few to be described as structure, like, there is a PROTAGONIST who struggle against an ANTAGONIST for an OBJECIVE. I mean, yeah, but this isn't something new, you can describe e.g. LOTR like this but this formula will not actually help you write LOTR.

dpat57 at 3:48AM, March 16, 2023

Cool beans, these are much like the thoughts I have when kicking something off, with "inciting incident" and "call to arms" and other labels stuck on.

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