A couple years ago, I saw an interview in which Jeff Foxworthy talked about seeing fellow comedian Ron White do his first standup bit. Foxworthy said he instantly recognized White as star material because he was naturally funny, and just as quickly identified the one thing that was preventing his breakthrough: LACK OF STRUCTURE. After the show, he went backstage, met White, explained how to reorder the phrases of a sketch for maximum effect – and the rest is comedy history.
That struck home. In my storytelling life, I felt as though I was lacking something, some unknown quantity, some intangible ‘thing’ that continued to escape me.
But thanks to Foxworthy’s ‘Aha!’ moment, I now had the answer: STRUCTURE. The simple logistics of what goes where and why.
Structure Defined: (Merriam/Webster)
- Arrangement OF and relationship BETWEEN parts or elements of something complex
- Something arranged in a definite pattern of organization
- Manner of construction
- Organization of parts
So I began my search for story structure.
I found it first in the world of screenwriting:
- Syd Field
- Alexandra Sokoloff
- Laurie Hutzler
And then, oh so happily, in the world of fiction:
- Dwight Swain
- Martha Alderson
- Larry Brooks
THE TRUTH ABOUT STRUCTURE
STRUCTURE doesn’t interfere with creativity or imagination or story soul. It supports it. It enhances it. It builds a platform and showcases the ever-lovin’-daylights out of it!
Look, creative powerhouses like Foose and Trepanier and Voekel are at the pinnacle of hotrod building because they know the chassis is just as important to the success of a show car as the shaved door handles and powder coated wheels.
And household mavens like Deen, Ray and De Laurentis can churn out eye-popping mouth-watering food porn for your visual pleasure and gastronomic inspiration because they have mastered the culinary basics that make it possible for them to prepare and present epicurean delicacies every day of the week.
Foose wouldn’t waste custom paint on a rust bucket.
Deen wouldn’t make banana flambé from discount brandy.
So, don’t let your story teeter perilously on unfit scaffolding or hobble it’s legs. Give it the foundation it deserves!
SO, WHAT IS STORY STRUCTURE?
Simply put, it’s the proper sequencing of story events.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Nothing scary about it. No hairy monster under the bed. No boogey man in the closet.
It’s as easy as one, two, three.
Actually, it's more like "one through eight" according to story structure master Larry Brooks.
Here is my bullet point rendering of his model for novels.
Status quo of story life and character
2.PLOT POINT ONE
Primary conflict is introduced and will drive the hero through what follows
3.PITCH POINT # 1
Quick and simple snapshot of the story from the antagonist’s pov
4.MID POINT TWIST
Curtain of knowledge is parted and changes the reader’s understanding
5.PITCH POINT # 2
Another snapshot of the story from the antagonist’s pov that raises the story stakes
6.PLOT POINT TWO
Injects the last info necessary for hero to be catalyst of the story’s conclusion
When all seems lost and hero appears bound to fail
Hero conquers inner demons and fulfills quest – or doesn’t
When you have the answers to each of these eight points, you’ll have a pretty darn good grasp of what happens between and in connection to the story milestones and your main character(s). Story arc and character arc in eight orderly story stepping stones.
Got structure? If not, pull up a chair and answer the eight questions above for your current WIP. Almost as easy as stealing a banana flambé from a baby. Almost!
MY FAVORITE STORY ENGINEERS:
1. Larry Brook’s material showed me how to structure a story – story building blocks
2. Dwight Swain’s material showed me how to structure a story – scene building blocks
3. Laurie Hutzler’s material showed me how to structure a character – character building blocks