Nothing mind the challenging taskwrite a novelseems more viable than adopting a story structure to help you plot your narrative.
While using a pre-existing blueprint might make you fearful of ending up with a formulaic and predictable story, you can probably analyze most of your favorite books using various narrative structures that writers have been using for decades (if not centuries)!
This post will reveal seven different story structures that any writer can use to build a compelling narrative. But first…
What is narrative structure?
Story structure, also known as narrative structure, is the order in which events in a novel are arranged beginning, middle, and ending. The structure of a story directly affects how the plot unfolds and how its driving forces (characters, obstacles, setting, etc.) are presented to the reader.
A tightly controlled narrative structure results in all of the reader's questions being answered, provides a climax, followed by resolution and information at the end of the story, encouragescharacter development, and unravel them allcore conflicts🇧🇷 In other words, good plot structuring creates a satisfying storytelling experience that achieves the author's goals.
Structure helps authors make connections between "things that happen" and "things that matter." A story about two very different people falling in love can also be about the value of compromise. A bank robbery account can become a confrontation with greed, loyalty, or the failure of the American dream.
Writers can draw on story theory and narrative structure for each storyit does not work🇧🇷 when they feel that your writing is awkward, aimless or - worst of all - boring. Writing is an art, but if there's one part of the craft that comes closest to science, it's this. Become a master of story structure and the world is your oyster.
basic structure of the story
Usually, when people talk about different story structures, they are talking about the different structures used to analyze stories. If you sum them all up, all of the stories have certain common elements.
- O Status quo.The protagonist lives a kind of "normal life" but has a higher desire or goal. This is usually the first part of the story - but not always.
- A startling incident.Sometimes referred to as a catalyst, this is an event thatset the story in motion, which forces the protagonist out of their comfort zone.
- Growing action.The protagonistpursue your goaland is tested at the same time.
- A moment when all is lost.The protagonist thinks they failed.
- A decision.The protagonist a) gets what they want, b) doesn't get what they want, or c) doesn't get what they want but realizes they have something more important.
These are all "beats" common to most stories. It might be easier to see these moments in higher stakes genres (like a military thriller), but you'll find them in almost any type of story.
Even in something deceptively smooth like a country romance, there will be escalating action as our heroes fall tentatively in love, and an all-lost moment when it seems like they'll never get together (before they do). inevitably do). Without these steps there is no conflict and therefore nonestory- just a series of events that will have difficulty maintaining the reader's interest.
Seven story structures every writer should know
Now that we've established the key story components, let's look at seven of the most popular story structures authors use - and how they implement those components.
- Friday's Pyramid
- The Hero's Journey
- Three act structure
- Dan Harmon's Story Circle
- Fichte curve
- Save the cat's bat
- Seven point story structure
1. Pyramid of Freytag
Named after a 19th-century German novelist and playwright, the Pyramid of Freytag is a dramatic five-point structure based on the classic Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides.
- Introduction.The status quo is established; an annoying incident occurs.
- Ascension or ascending action.The protagonist actively pursues his goal. The stakes rise.
- Climax.A point of no return from which the protagonist can no longer return to the status quo.
- Fall back or fall.After the climax, tension builds and the story inevitably moves on to...
- Catastrophe.The protagonist is brought to his lowest point. Your greatest fears have come true.
This structural model is used less frequently in modern storytelling, partly due to readers' limited appetites for tragic narratives (though you can still discern sometragic heroesin today's popular literature). In general, protagonists in commercial fiction, film, and television will overcome their obstacles to find a small measure of success. Nonetheless, it's still useful to understand the pyramid as a key structure in Western literature - and you'll still see it occasionally in the most depressing contemporary stories.
Learn more,Read our full guide to the Freytag Pyramid.
2. The Hero's Journey
Inspired by Joseph Campbell's concept of the monomyth - a narrative pattern recurring in mythology around the world - The Hero's Journey is the most well-known story structure today. Some attribute its popularity to George Lucas, whosewar of starswas heavily influenced by CampbellThe hero with a thousand faces.
Campbell's original structure uses terminology that lends itself well to epic tales of bravery and triumph - with storylines such as "The Belly of the Whale", "The Seductress Woman" and "The Magic Flight". To make the hero's journey more accessible, Disney executive Christopher Vogler created a simplified version that proved popular with mainstream storytellers.
Here we look at Vogler's simplified 12-step version of the hero's journey.
- The Ordinary World.The everyday life of the hero is established.
- The Call of Adventure.Also known as the instigating incident.
- Reject the call.For a moment, the hero hesitates to accept the challenge.
- Meeting with the mentor.Our hero meets someone who prepares him for what is to come - perhaps a parent figure, teacher, wizard or wise hermit.
- Crossing the first threshold.The hero leaves his comfort zone and enters a "new world".
- Tests, allies, enemies.Our protagonist faces new challenges - and may find new friends. Think of Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road.
- Approaching the hidden cave.The hero approaches his goal. Luke Skywalker arrives at the Death Star.
- Approval.The hero meets (and overcomes) his greatest challenge yet.
- reward (grab the sword).The hero gets something important that he was looking for, and victory is in sight.
- The Back Street.The hero realizes that reaching his goal is not the final hurdle. In fact, the "sword swinging" might have made things even worse for her.
- Resurrection.The hero faces his final challenge - a climate test that depends on everything they've learned on their journey.
- Turn like or elixir.After the victory, our protagonist returns to his old life. Dorothy returns to Kansas; Iron Man holds press conferenceto blow his own trumpet.
While Vogler's simplified steps still retain some of Campbell's mythological language, with its references to swords and elixirs, the structure can be applied to almost any genre of fiction. To see how a "realistic" story can adhere to this framework, see oursHero's Journey Guidein which we analyzeRockythrough the same lens.
3. Three Act Structure
Following the old adage "Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end," this popular framework separates the components of a story into three distinct acts: preparation, confrontation, and resolution. In many ways, the three-act structure revisits the hero's journey with slightly less exciting labels.
Act 1: construction
- exposure🇧🇷 The status quo or the "normal world" is established.
- instigation to the incident; to amplify the incident.An event that sets history in motion.
- Plot point the same.The protagonist decides to face the challenge head-on. She "crosses the threshold" and the story is really moving now.
Act 2: Confrontation
- Growing action.The true stakes of the story become clear; Our heroine gets to know her "new world" and has her first encounters with some enemies and allies. (see Tests, Allies, Enemies)
- Focus.An event that negates the protagonist's mission. (Similar to the peak in Freytag's Pyramid)
- shot point two.In the wake of the disorienting center, the protagonist is put to the test – and fails. His ability to succeed is now in doubt.
Act 3: Resolution
- Before the climax.The night is darkest before dawn. The protagonist must pull herself together and choose between decisive action and failure.
- Climax.She faces her antagonist one last time. Will she prevail?
- Result.All loose ends are tied together. The reader discovers the consequences of the climax. A new status quo is established.
When we talk about a confrontation with an antagonist, it doesn't always mean a fight to the death. In some cases, the antagonist can be a love rival, a business competitor, or just oneinternal or environmental conflictsthat our protagonist struggled with throughout the story.
If you're interested in using this template to design your own story, check out oursGuide to the three-act structure, and be sure to sign up for our free course on the subject.
How to plan a romance in three acts
In 10 days, learn to write a novel that will captivate readers
4. Dan Harmon's Story Circle
Another variation on Campbell's monomythical structure, the Story Circle, is an approach developed byRick e MortyCo-creator Dan Harmon. Again, the benefit of Harmon's approach, heavily inspired by Hero's Journey, is its focus on the protagonist's character arc. Rather than referencing abstract concepts like "Story Midpoint" and "Desouement," each tap on the Story Circle forces the author to think about the character's wants and needs.
- A character is in a comfort zone...This establishes the status quo.
- But they want something...This "desire" may be something old and may have arisen from an irritating incident.
- You find yourself in an unfamiliar situation...The protagonist must do something new in his search for what he wants.
- Adapt to them...Faced with some challenges, they struggle and begin to succeed.
- Get what they wanted...Usually a false win.
- Pay dearly...They realize that what they “wanted” wasn't what they “needed”.
- Then return to your usual situation ...armed with a new truth.
Created by an author whose chosen medium is the 30-minute sitcom, this structure is formulated in a way this avoids the need for a protagonist to undergo life-altering transformations with each story. After all, in a comedy that lasts six seasons (and one movie), the characters can't fully transform at the end of each episode. They can, however, learn little truths about themselves and the world around them - which, like all humans, they can quickly forget when next week's episode calls for it.
To learn more and see how this structure is applied to a sequence ofRick e Morty,Check out our full postDan Harmon's Story Circle.
Side note: With this type of character-driven storyline (and indeed all structures like this) you want to know that you are the protagonist inside and out. Why not check out some of our character development exercises to help you develop your characters, like the profile template below.
Profile template for Reedsy characters
A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill in to develop yours.
5. Fichtean whore
Embodied in the work of John GardnerThe Art of Fiction, the Fichtean curve is a narrative structure that guides our main characters through a series of many obstacles on their way to achieving their overarching goals. Similar to Freytag's pyramid, encourages writers to write narrativesfull of excitementand mini-crises that itch readers to climax.
The Fichte curve ignores the "normal world" configuration of many other structures and begins with the initiating event and moves directly to upward action. Several crises occur, each of which adds to the reader's overall understanding of the narrative and replaces the need for an initial exposition.
Perhaps the best way to discuss this unusual structure is to see it in use. We use Celeste NgsEverything I never told youas an an example. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.
- instigation to the incident; to amplify the incident.The novel begins with the line: “Lydia is dead. But they don't know that yet. In the first three paragraphs, Marilyn states that her daughter Lydia is missing. Thus, readers are thrown straight into the escalating plot as Marilyn anxiously searches all the usual places to find Lydia.
- First Crisis.Lydia's family is informed that her body was found in a nearby lake. From the climax of this first crisis, the narrative rewinds to provide an account and details of the family history.
- Second Crisis.In flashbacks, we learn that 11 years earlier, Marilyn had left her family to resume her undergraduate studies. In his absence, the family begins to fall apart. Marilyn discovers she is pregnant and has to return home. Having missed the opportunity to pursue further education, she puts the pressure of academic success on her children.
- Third Crisis.Back in the present, Lydia's father, James, is cheating on Marilyn. The police decide to drop the investigation and consider Lydia's death a suicide. This causes a big argument between her parents and James leaves to be with the "other woman".
- fourth crisis.Flashback to the day Lydia died. From her perspective, we see that she is misunderstood by her parents. Lamenting her brother's imminent departure for college, she leaves her alone in the focus of pressure from her parents. In isolation, she tries to seduce a boyfriend - who rejects her advances and declares that he is in love with her brother.
- Lydia takes a boat out on the lake in the middle of the night, determined to overcome her fear of water and take back control of her life. Lydia jumps off the boat, into the water and out of this life. As in a classic tragedy, this moment is both devastating and inevitable.
- A certain level of resolution is achieved and readers are able to at least get a glimpse of the "new norm" for characters. Lydia's family leans on each other in their grief. Although they can never reconcile with Lydia, they can learn from her death. Not all loose ends are tied, but readers conclude the family is on the long road to recovery.
Note: In the ascending action phase, all crises must build suspense and fit with the main climax of the story. Like the three-act narrative structure, the peak of Fichte's curve typically occurs about two-thirds of the way through the book.
While this structure lends itself well to flashback novels such asEverything I never told youit's also incredibly common in the theater. In plays likethe cherry orchardea dollhouse, the action takes place at a fixed time and place, but the backstory and character development are revealed through dramatic moments unfolding before the eyes of the audience.
For a deeper dive into this framework, visit our full post ata curve of Fichtean.
6. Save the cat's flip sheet
Another variation on the three-act structure, this structure created by Hollywood screenwriter Blake Snyder has been widely used by storytellers in many media.
Fun Fact:save the catis named for a moment in the setting of a story (usually a movie) where our hero does something to please the audience.
Although many frameworks are reluctant to prescribe exactlyWhenThere must be several beats in a story, Snyder andsave the cathas no such concerns. The number in square brackets below refers to the page where the crash should occur - assuming you're writing a 110-page script.
- Opening image .The first scene of the film. if you arestart a novel, that would be an introductory paragraph or scene that draws readers into the world of your story.
- Configuration [1-10].Establishment of your protagonist's "normal world". What does he want? What is he lacking?
- Explained topic .As you prepare, point out what your story is really about—the truth your protagonist will discover at the end.
- Catalyst .An exciting incident!
- Debate [12-25].The hero refuses the call to adventure. He tries to avoid conflicts before they are forced into action.
- parts .The protagonist makes an active choice and the journey begins in earnest.
- Story B .A subplot begins. Often romantic in nature, the protagonist's subplot should serve to emphasize the subject.
- The promise of the premise [30-55].Often referred to as the "fun and games" stage, this is usually a highly entertaining section where the writer delivers the goods. If you promised an exciting detective story, we would see the detective in action. If you promised a silly story of people falling in love, let's have some charming and awkward dates.
- Midpoint .ONEplot twistTurns out it ups the ante and makes the hero's goal harder to achieve -- or gets them focused on a new, more important goal.
- The bandits are approaching [55-75].The voltage increases. The hero's obstacles increase, his plan fails and he falls behind.
- All is lost .The hero hits rock bottom. He's losing everything he's won so far and things are looking bleak. The hero is ruled by the villain; a mentor dies; Our lovebirds fight and break up.
- Dark Night of the Soul [75-85-ish].Having just lost everything, the hero roams the city in a minor-key musical montage before discovering some "new information" that reveals exactly what he needs to do if he wants to try again to be successful. (This new information is usually provided via the B-story.)
- Divide into three .Armed with this new information, our protagonist decides to try again!
- Finale [85-110].The hero confronts the antagonist or whatever is the source of the primary conflict. The truth that eluded him at the beginning of the story (found in step three and emphasized by story B) is now clear and allows him to solve her story.
- Final image .A final moment or scene that crystallizes how the character has changed. It's kind of a reflection of the opening image.
Some writers might find this structure too prescriptive, but it's amazing to see how many mainstream stories seem to adhere to it - whether intentionally or accidentally. There are numerous on the Save the Cat websiteExamples of films and novels analyzed using Snyder's 15 Beats🇧🇷 You'll be amazed at how accurate some of the tempos are for each of the beats.
To delve deeper into this framework and see this video of Reedsy's Shaelin planning a mid-level fantasy novel using Snyder's method, visit our full post atSave the cat's bat.
7. Seven point story structure
A slightly less detailed adaptation of The Hero's Journey, the Seven Point Story Structure focuses specifically on the ups and downs of astory arc.
According to author Dan Wells, who developed theSeven point story structure, authors are encouraged to start with the resolution at the end and return to where they started: the hook. Looking to the ending, they can have their protagonist and storyline begin in a state that best contrasts with the ending—since this structure involves dramatic changes from beginning to end.
- The hook.Engage the readers by explaining the protagonist's current situation. Your state of being at the beginning of the novel must be in direct contrast to what you will be in at the end of the novel.
- Action point 1.Whether it's a person, an idea, a tantalizing event, or anything else, there should be some sort of "call to adventure" that kickstarts the narrative and character development.
- handle point 1It can't all be sunshine and roses for your protagonist. Something must go wrong here, which puts pressure on the main character, forcing him to step forward and solve the problem.
- Focus.A "tipping point" where the main character switches from being a passive to an active force in the story. Whatever the main conflict of the narrative, the protagonist decides to face it head-on.
- grip point 2.The second pinch point brings another hit for the protagonist - it goes even more wrong than the first pinch point. This could include the demise of a mentor, the failure of a plan, the exposure of a traitor, etc.
- Action point 2.After Pinch Point 2's disaster, the protagonist discovers that he actually held the key to resolving the conflict all along.
- Resolution.The main conflict of the story is resolved - and the character undergoes the final evolution necessary to transform her from who she was at the beginning of the novel.
For a deeper dive into Wells' approach - including the key to using it - visit ourcomplete contribution on the structure of history in seven points.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: story structures aren'texactlyscience, and you should feel free to deviate from the path they set out. They are simply there to help you find your narrative foundation - a blueprint for the world you are about to build.
What are the 7 narrative structures? ›
- Overcoming the Monster.
- Rags to Riches.
- The Quest.
- Voyage and Return.
Since there will be many plot points in a movie, I call these The Magnificent 7 Plot Points. They are: the Back Story, the Catalyst, the Big Event (we've mentioned that one), the Midpoint, the Crisis, the Climax, and the Realization.What are the 7 steps to writing a story? ›
- Identify the focus of your short story. ...
- Start writing. ...
- Write a compelling beginning. ...
- Create a powerful ending. ...
- Read your story out loud. ...
- Edit and revise. ...
- Ask for feedback.
Devised by 19th century German playwright Gustav Freytag, Freytag's Pyramid is a paradigm of dramatic structure outlining the seven key steps in successful storytelling: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement.Are there only 7 stories? ›
Many academics, most notably author Christopher Booker, believe there are only seven basic narrative plots in all of storytelling – frameworks that are recycled again and again in fiction but populated by different settings, characters, and conflicts.What are the 7 types of books? ›
- Adventure stories.
- Fairy tales, fables, and folk tales.
- Historical fiction.
- Humour and satire.
When using the seven-point story structure, you must begin from the story's conclusion. First, figure out how it ends and what happens to your protagonist. Then, draw out the structure of your climax so you can set up the middle and beginning of your novel.What are the 7 aspects of setting? ›
- Locale. ...
- Time of year. ...
- Time of day. ...
- Elapsed time. ...
- Mood and atmosphere. ...
- Climate. ...
- Geography. ...
- Man-made geography.
Narrative structure—which incorporates storyline and plotline—is the organizational framework of a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When all three of these story sections are individually compelling yet also work well in concert with each other, the resultant narrative is smooth and compelling.What are the 7 elements of a story PDF? ›
- Character. This is so important, because unless your reader feels something for the characters, they won't care what happens to them, and they won't read on. ...
- Plot. ...
- Setting. ...
- Point of View. ...
- Style. ...
- Theme. ...
- Literary Devices.
What are the 7 ways good writers write *? ›
- Be direct in your writing. Good writing is clear and concise. ...
- Choose your words wisely. ...
- Short sentences are more powerful than long sentences. ...
- Write short paragraphs. ...
- Always use the active voice. ...
- Review and edit your work. ...
- Use a natural, conversational tone. ...
- Read famous authors.
- Choose a clear central message. ...
- Embrace conflict. ...
- Have a clear structure. ...
- Mine your personal experiences. ...
- Engage your audience. ...
- Observe good storytellers.
So, keep in mind that you need a main theme, characters, setting, tension, climax, resolution, plot, purpose and chronology for a powerful story.What is the definition of the 7 element of literature? ›
These are the basic building blocks of any great story – Setting, Conflict, Character, Dialogue, Theme, Plot, and Climax. Good novels and films have well-defined story elements in each of these areas. All seven are necessary to create a successful and memorable story.What are the 9 plots? ›
- Overcoming the Monster.
- The Quest.
- Voyage and Return.
- Rags to Riches.
Postcard fiction is just what it sounds like—a story that could fit on a postcard. It's typically around 250 words, but could be as much as 500 or as few as 25.What are the 37 plots? ›
- Supplication. ...
- Deliverance. ...
- Crime pursued by vengeance. ...
- Vengeance taken for kin upon kin. ...
- Pursuit. ...
- Disaster. ...
- Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune. ...
“Seven Stories was given its name for two reasons: the building is spread across seven floors and the theory that there are only seven types of stories in the world.What are the 5 narrative structures? ›
What Is the Five-Act Structure? The five-act structure is a formula that breaks a story into distinct sections: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.What are the 5 structures that make up a narrative? ›
- The status quo. The protagonist is living some kind of 'normal life' but has a greater desire or goal. ...
- An inciting incident. ...
- Rising action. ...
- An all-is-lost moment. ...
- A resolution.
What are the 5 narrative structures of a story? ›
- Exposition. This is the reader's introduction to the story. ...
- Rising action. This is when conflict begins to ramp up. ...
- Climax. ...
- Falling action. ...
Narrative structure—which incorporates storyline and plotline—is the organizational framework of a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When all three of these story sections are individually compelling yet also work well in concert with each other, the resultant narrative is smooth and compelling.