Story Structure

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, offers six core competencies of a great story. The fourth competency is structure. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a structure junkie, and this was my favorite part of the book. It can be hazardous to the writing journey to focus only one of the six core competencies, so if you’re struggling with structure, you might find this method liberating.

The author begins by saying that, “in today’s commercial fiction market there are expectations and proven techniques that are accepted as fundamental principles, and if you want to publish your novel you will have to honor them.” Even if you’re a pantser (write by the seat of your pants with no outline) or a rebel (rules are for other people, not me), you still need to understand these structural expectations to get your writing noticed. 

The core of storytelling is conflict. If you have no conflict, you have no story. If you have no sympathetic character in that conflict, you have no story. If you have no structure for that sympathetic character in conflict, you still have no story. They work together. But HOW they work together is the fun part, and it can definitely be learned.

The beauty of structure is that you never have to ask yourself what happens next? If you’ve established your structure before you begin writing, you have a roadmap to follow. This is similar to an outline, but not quite the same thing. I’m an outliner, and the structure Brooks presents helped me modify my existing way of outlining to be more productive. But even if you’re a pantser, there’s still plenty of freedom in structuring without losing the creative energy you find in writing as you go. Beautiful works of architecture follow the basic structure of “a building” and still have plenty of art and creativity and function. So please don’t dismiss structure without giving it a shot, first.

(This photo, a non-formulaic work of architectural design, is brought to you by

I like Brooks’s analogy. Human beings all have the same structure: two arms, two legs, head, torso, etc. But no two human beings are alike. Even twins have differences. So just because you use a structure for creating your novel doesn’t mean it turn out generic, or formulaic, or boring. Now, with all that out of the way, let’s look at the structure as Brooks defines it.

Story structure has four parts: Setup, Response, Attack, and Resolution.

Wasn’t that easy? I’ll work on explaining those four parts in the coming posts, so stay tuned! You don’t want to miss this fun and exciting stuff.


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