Writing Tip of the Week: Story Structure – Final Thoughts

We’ve been on quite a journey the past several weeks.  From exploring the Beginning of a story through the tumultuous Middle, and to its climactic End, we have seen how these elements combine into a narrative structure that is commonplace in most commercial stories today.  

As you develop your story, think about how you can take these different areas and make them your own, creating a powerful, compelling, and intriguing narrative that will grab readers from the start and have them furiously reading until the very last page.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few things to consider as you craft a story.

Plot-Driven of Character-Driven?

What is affecting the main character that is driving them to action?  Is it an external or internal force?  If it’s an external force, you are dealing with a more plot-driven story.  If it’s an internal force, you’re looking at a character-driven one.

Most action movies are plot-driven.  There’s an external incident that pushes the main character into action.  Steve Rogers doesn’t become Captain America if there’s not a war effort going on.  Batman doesn’t jump into action if the Joker doesn’t inflict his criminal insanity on Gotham City.  While we do see these characters change due to their external circumstances, they are not driven forward by those internal forces in terms of the story being told.

Dramas and some comedies are more character-driven.  An event may spur the main character into action, but they are in control of their circumstances.  There may be external forces at work against them, but the hero’s internal drive and internal obstacles are what the audience is banking on.  When you watch or read these stories, we watch to see how the hero is impacted internally by what’s happening.  American Beauty and Nomadland are two great examples of character-driven drama.  We are watching the main character’s internal evolution and how that impacts their external circumstances.

When you sit down to flesh out your story, ask yourself what’s driving your main character forward?  Is it an internal motivation or an external force?

Take the Time to Outline

There’s are two terms that writers often use to describe the two types of writers:  Plotters and Pantsers.  Basically, a Plotter outlines their story; a Pantser throws caution to the wind and “flies by the seat of their pants.”  Now, while both are fine, I recommend that before you put pen to paper or start typing your story, you at the very least jot down a basic guide of where the story is going.

Like many writers, I have had an idea for a story and started writing only to lose steam a few pages in?  Why?  I didn’t take the time to work on a basic guide to see where the story would go and how it might end.

When you plan a road trip, you usually look at a map and decide where you’ll stop for food, gas, a hotel, etc. on your journey.  Winging it may result in you getting lost, running out of gas with no station for miles, or turning down a road that leads to nowhere.  Not planning ahead in a story can have similar consequences.

I’m not saying you have to detail every single minute detail that happens in each chapter.  But you should afford yourself the courtesy of knowing the significant events that will take the story and your characters in a new direction.  Are they set in stone?  No.  But at least you have a story event that you are working toward.  If it changes, it changes.  But you have a goal to write toward in the meantime.

Ask yourself the basics: 

  • What’s my character doing at the start of the story?  
  • What inciting incident moves them onto a new track and changes their goal?  
  • Who is their antagonist?  
  • What is the antagonist doing to prevent the hero from reaching their goal?  
  • What big turning point occurs that sends them in a new direction in pursuit of that goal? 
  • What event takes place that makes them realize there’s no turning back?  
  • What major event makes them almost give up and lose hope, but they get back up and fight anyway?  
  • How do they confront the antagonist?  How do they move forward after achieving their goal?

Now you have a map with major landmarks to write toward.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes

A work of fiction is a living document.  Things can be added, cut, changed, removed, or altered in any way they need to serve the story.  And that’s the key: everything exists to serve your story.

Your rough draft is “rough” for a reason.  You now have a manuscript that you can edit and change to make the story and characters stronger.  The drafting process takes time, and as you write more, you’ll find a process that works best for you.

Since it’s your story, instinctually, you will know when something isn’t working, if a character seems out of place and should be removed, or if the dialogue isn’t realistic.  Take your time and be brave enough to make the changes that will make your story stronger.

Enjoy the Process

You have to love your story and your characters.  That love will shine through on the page.  Unless you are writing for an assignment, you have free reign to write whatever you want, however you want, and that means you have the power to control character, story, dialogue, and all the other elements that go into your story.

Writing a novel, a play, a screenplay, even a short story or poem can be a lengthy, time-consuming, and often lonely task.  If you loathe what you’re working on, then you won’t get very far.  Love your story.  Love your protagonist and antagonist.  Love your setting and dialogue.  

Finding that passion and enjoyment in what you’re writing will go a long way to making sure you not only complete the project but you’re proud of what you wrote and want to dive back in to make it even better the next time around.

If you are having problems with what you’re writing, take a step back and ask why.  Why am I now enjoying this?  What can I do to make this story more enjoyable and make it less of a task and more of an engaging creative escape?

I encourage all of you the next time you sit down to write – whether it’s a new story or one you’ve been working on – to ask yourself what you love about it and what motivates you to finish it.  Then let your creativity and energy go to work.

This series has been a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts about story structure with you over the past few months.  In two weeks, I’ll be starting a new series, so make sure to stop by and have a look.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Check out the entire Story Structure series below:

Writing Tip of the Week: Story Structure – The End

In today’s post, we’ve made it to that all-important piece of the puzzle that helps tie everything up in a nice, neat bow: The End of the story.

The Final Test

Your hero has been dealt a decisive blow as they enter the arena of the End.  As they come out of the big Turning Point that jettisons them from the Middle, they may be ready to give up, give in, or just walk away. 

But that can’t happen.  If you’ve created an active protagonist, they aren’t going to go down without a fight.  They’re going to give everything they have left to get to their goal, even if it kills them.

And that’s why…

Cop-Outs are NOT an Option

The main character may feel a sense of impending doom at this point.  They may feel they have no options or choices left.  They may feel they are all alone.  But they can’t give up. They can’t just decide, “You know what?  You were right, Joker.  Gotham is yours.”  

It’s not in a protagonist’s nature to stop while there’s still hope of winning and reaching their intended goal.  This is still their fight, and even if they come out of it bruised, bloodied, and worse for wear, they will still have evolved as a character by the story’s end.

Win, Lose, or Draw

Ultimately, you get to decide what your hero’s fate is.  They have three viable options:

  • They can fight and win;
  • They can fight and lose; or
  • They can fight and decide along with the antagonist to settle their differences in a civilized manner.

This is the Climax of the story; the final battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  Or the forces of “I want to be a writer” and the forces of “no, you’re gonna work on the family farm.”

Most superhero and action movies choose the Win (The AvengersThe Dark KnightHobbs & Shaw).  Many dramas may opt for the hero to Lose, but still win in some respect (GladiatorDallas Buyers ClubAmerican Beauty).  But what about rom-coms or comedies?

These usually end in a Draw; where the hero wins, but their antagonist now supports them and wants them to succeed.  Maybe they end up with the antagonist by the end of the story (You’ve Got Mail).  Maybe their father decides that they shouldn’t be a coal miner and should design rockets instead (October Sky).

Often, we think in terms of “the antagonist must be destroyed,” but if you are writing something about real people, a family, a team, this probably won’t work.  Think about how the hero’s actions can persuade the antagonist to their side plausibly and positively. 

Bringing Everyone to the New Normal

Once the antagonist has been defeated and the hero has reached their goal, a New Normal has been achieved.  They have what they were seeking – a job, a significant other, an education, the Holy Grail, etc. – and their life will never be the same.

Take the time to acknowledge this new status, even if for a brief moment.  This is the point in the story when things are starting to wrap up.  The adventure is over.  Don’t drag your feet and make the audience stick around once their investment has paid off.  Make sure they know what happened after the final showdown and how the characters are doing after, but make it brief.

The technical term for this moment of the story is Denouement

The End of Legally Blonde

As we discussed two weeks ago, Elle found herself in a bad place with her professor sexually harassing her and her new friend Vivian witnessing the harassment.  But, instead of being on Elle’s side, Vivian accuses her of sleeping with the professor to get the internship.

Now, Elle is ready to quit law school, give up on her goal, and hide.  But, after a pep talk from one of her female professors (played by Holland Taylor), she decides that quitting is not an option.

Check out the clip here:

Elle returns to the trial, regains her confidence, and its through her cross-examination of the accused that the prosecution wins the case.  

Check out the clip here:

As she goes to leave, her ex, Warner, tries to get back with her.  She rebuffs him with a similar line he used to break up with her, and walks away.

Check out the clip here:

The final scene is of Elle giving an uplifting speech on graduation day.

Check out the clip here:

She did it!  She proved to herself and to others that she was capable of becoming a lawyer.  

Notice that the Climax in this film is a verbal exchange between the hero and villain.  No epic battle that destroys half of Harvard.  It’s simple yet effective.  Elle has evolved as a person who has realized her own value and self-worth.  And her final line to Warner and her graduation speech sum up how she has evolved throughout the film.

It’s been quite a journey over the past five posts.  We’ve explored all aspects of the Beginning, Middle, and End of a story.  We’ve looked at Legally Blonde and seen how that story is crafted with these story elements in mind.  And next time, I’ll share some final thoughts about story structure to wrap up this series.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!