How Story Structure Relates To Our Lives

I’ve become a structure-holic. I see it everywhere: books, TV, movies, and in life. This obsession has now spilled over into my blog. Because I firmly believe knowing how to structure our novels is crucial. It ensures our stories flow properly, shows our character arc, and gives readers satisfaction. When it comes to writing fiction it’s everything. Which, to me, makes it awesome. It’s the magic bullet that can make our dreams come true. I know this for a fact… stay tuned for an upcoming post on how I know this.

Think of it this way…

Human beings have structure — flesh, organs, tissue, arteries, veins, water and muscle all have their place. No matter what race, religion or creed, we are the same. What braces all the stuff that makes up our bodies is our skeleton — structure.

We may look different on the outside… some have big noses, full lips, different skin and eye color… but we all started the same way…

As an egg — story idea.

That egg was fertilized in the womb and grew into something more, but it still hadn’t fully formed into a male or female yet — concept.

We evolved into a living, breathing human being and entered the world — character.

We grew up to think and feel differently, have different worldviews, religions, heart and soul — theme.

And we lived our lives… our story — premise.

Some people are more giving, outwardly loving. Some are not comfortable with affection. But it’s all because of how we were raised or because of something that happened in our past to change us — backstory.

As I tell this story I want you to think back over your life. We’ve all gone through hard times, some worse than others. Humor me, and if you don’t know structure now you will at least start to grasp it by the time you’re done with this post. That’s my hope anyway.

14410348310yin0So, we’ve been born and we’re growing up, maturing or have already matured. Whichever applies to that specific time in your life.

We got a job, perhaps married and had children. But kept our inner demons, our flaws — Act I — 1st quartile: Set Up << which begins character arc, introduces characters, sets up FPP, foreshadows future events, etc. 

And then something happened to throw our lives out of balance. This defining moment demanded that we act. We could not hide from it. It forced us to DO something — First Plot Point, at 20-25%.

After this crucial moment occurred an antagonist force entered our lives, or it was there all along and only now revealed itself — 1st Pinch Point, at 3/8th mark or 37.5%.

We reeled, flailed, resisted, and failed — Act II — 2nd quartile: Response 

We either did something to fix the problem or the problem worsened. All the while we kept thinking things could not get much worse. Or, we believed we’d finally solved the problem. But it was a false victory or a false defeat — Midpoint, at 50%.

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So we needed to attack the problem head on, because it’s wasn’t going away — Act III — 3rd quartile: Attack << our true character changes again and we become a warrior.

We stopped our pity party because it wasn’t doing us any good. Besides, we’re stronger now than we were when we started this quest.

And then, we got another peek at the antagonist force. Only now it was more terrifying than ever because it too had upped its game — 2nd Pinch Point, at 5/8th mark or 62.5%. Learn more about Pinch Points in Fiction Writing.

It’s here that we realized we hadn’t actually solved anything. We’d only made it worse. Or, the victory we felt was short-lived because we didn’t realize X,Y,Z was around the corner waiting to blow everything up. Things looked bleak. We believed it just couldn’t get any worse — All Is Lost Moment.

But how did we really feel about this? What sort of impact did it have on us? — Dark Night of the Soul.

Then something else changed. Or, we discovered something that aided us in seeing a glimmer at the end of a very dark road — 2nd Plot Point, at 75%.

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And we began to see that there was in fact a way we could fix our lives — Act IV — 4th quartile: Resolution << this act completes character arc

The only way to defeat the antagonist force was to overcome our fears, inner demons, flaws and meet this force head on. And to live with ourselves we knew we were the ones who had to fight this final battle, using everything we’d learned in life thus far, about ourselves and the world around us — Climax.

And then we could live happily ever after, or as happy as we could in our new world. We grew as individuals, faced our fears, and had come out stronger for the effort. We’d settled into our new lives — Resolution.

And that’s it… story structure as it relates to our lives. Obviously you need to start with a great hook. For more check out: How to Write a Killer Hook.

Could you think of a time in your life when this applied to you? Hold on to that and you’ll never forget story structure, at least at its basic level.

Happy writing!

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, multi-published author in numerous anthologies, and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue’s a radio show host—check out "Partners In Crime" in the menu bar—the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She lives in rural New Hampshire where she's surrounded by wildlife...bear, moose, deer, even mountain lions have been spotted. Course, Sue would love to snuggle with the animals, but her husband frowns on the idea.

26 Comments

  1. Incredible!
    Thank you so very much…….
    Thinking you may have changed the way I view life, not just the way write…
    Very, very impressed 🙂

  2. Hi Sue. Per our permission situation, I scheduled this as a guest post for Feb 5th. As usual, it includes your credit/bio/link to your blog. Thanks!

    • That’s fine, Ryan. But my bio has changed, so please use this one: Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the author of Marred and Wings of Mayhem. Her forensic articles have been published in InSinC Quarterly and in Murder, USA, A Crime Fiction Tour of the Nation anthology. She blogs at: http://www.suecoletta.com. Join her in the Crime Lover’s Lounge. Your secret key code will unlock the virtual door.
      Thanks!

  3. Yes, yes, yes. Storytelling is all about structure. Such a lucid, helpful way to explain it. Thanks.

  4. This is the best example of novel template framework I’ve ever seen. My current novel is kicked up a bit faster as my antagonist was introduced a bit earlier. He’s still an enigma though…so anything can happen.

    • I often use an inciting incident, too, prior to the FPP. As long as you’ve got a properly placed FPP as well, you’re covered. And thank you so much for that awesome compliment!

      • There was one murder in a nightmare in the first chapter. But it was one from the main character’s past (meanwhile, you’re getting to know both the protagonist and the MC)….then it happened for real…again. In chapter five, she has another dream, but this time, instead of through the victims eyes, she sees through the protagonists eyes, so your closer to him. Yet he’s still an enigma. A few chapters away, and several weeks later. This nightmare comes true. There are a few suspicious people being introduced along the way and plenty of time before the antagonist is revealed.

        So far, it’s going really good. I’m enjoying the writing. It’s actually kind of fun to write inside the serial killer’s head. I’m hoping the reader audience won’t mind going there.

        • Writing from the antagonist’s POV is one of my favorite things to do. I love writing evil deeds… so fun! And hey, it worked for James Patterson, right? He always uses alternating chapters between antag. and protag., and I think it adds an abundance of tension to his books. Good luck with your story. I know I’ve told you this before but it bears repeating… it sounds fascinating!

  5. What an excellent way to think about story structure, Sue!! Our lives really do have a structure (as do our bodies. As does a leaf). There’s no reason we can’t think about stories that way. And it seems to me that it also makes the story easier to write when we follow that structure. I know it does for me.

    • Me too. I can’t help but seeing structure everywhere. It’s a beautiful and awesome thing. And now, it’s rubbing off on my husband. Which is adorable, IMO.

  6. Great piece, Sue. Really puts it into perspective. You’re getting a lot of good from Larry Brooks’s work. I’m going to have to re-read story structure and have a look at his other books. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Cool way to relate this idea. A guy could almost have a sheet to fill out with personal life events.

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