Some people have a specific story structure that they swear by. They use it to plot all of their novels and sing its praises whenever they can. That’s fine. As someone who doesn’t usually plan their stories ahead, I’ve never grown any attachment to any of these outlining methods. And, to be quite honest, I think they’re all pretty much the same.
Some of them are more detailed, some of them start vague and slowly add details, some of them stay vague forever. In general, most stories have the same basic structure.
Since I’ve been revising forever, I decided to look into all the outlining methods I could think of. I didn’t come up with any of these, and I’m not going to get too detailed in explaining them, but, this week and next week, I’m going to give you a brief overview of a bunch of methods I’ve encountered.
This week, the basics.
This structure divide the novel into, you guessed it, 3 acts. The Beginning, The Middle, and The End. Also known as The Setup, The Confrontation, and The Resolution. The first act sets up the story and introduces the characters, the setting, and the conflict. The second is where all the things happen. The third includes the climax of the story and all the consequences to tie things up. There is a more detailed way to do this, where each act is further broken down into 3 main points, making it a 9 point story structure.
5 Act, or Freytag’s Pyramid
This structure has 5 main parts. The Exposition, which is really just the setup from 3 Act, Rising Action, where all the stuff happens and builds up, The Climax, which is of course the height of the conflict, Falling Action, where things start to wind down until, Denouement, or the resolution. If you draw this out, basically everything leads up to the climax, then back down to the denouement, which is why it’s a pyramid.
This one gets a bit more specific, and is circular, but it’s also quite common. There are a number of ways to specifically break it down, but here are the main points. The first part is the beginning, the world that our hero already knows and lives in. Then, they receive a Call to Adventure. Something unusual happens that has the potential to change the world the hero knows. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as it sounds. Naturally, our hero refuses to enter the unknown with a Refusal of the Call. Because reluctant heroes are the best heroes.
Meeting the Mentor, someone shows up and successfully encourages our hero to answer the call. This leads to Crossing the Threshold. Somehow, our hero has entered the unfamiliar world and the journey really begins. Then there are Trials that our hero must face in this new stage of their life.
Once our hero has felt out their new living conditions, we learn that something big is going to happen and our hero needs to get ready for The Ordeal. Things get messy, and complicated, and difficult. Then, our hero gets some sort of Reward. But there are consequences and there is some sort of Realization, Atonement, and then the climax happens before the hero must Return to the world they came from. They will be changed as a person at this point, and it is likely that the place they are returning to will be different too, especially if some time has passed since they left.
I always thought this was something different, but it’s really just another version of the Heroes Journey, broken down into 8 main points.
- Comfort Zone
- Wants Something
- Unfamiliar Situation
- Get What They Wanted
- Pay a Heavy Price
- Return to Familiar
- Having Changed