Story Structure

2014-4-6 Tahoe A - Copy

This is a compilation of a few websites, but most of the content came from Writers Write, I recommend following them on Facebook.  Here is a basic outline of a positive change arc to help you map out your story.

  1. The Hook (1%)
    1. The hook is essentially a question, it is the thing that is going to get the reader to keep going, make it good enough that they just can’t put your story down until they find out the answer.
  2. The First Act (1-25%)
    1. Goals & Stakes (1-12%)
      1. What is your character’s goal (see Character Flaw Worksheet) What can’t they live without?
      2. What’s at stake if he/she doesn’t reach this goal?
    2. Inciting Event (@ 12%)
      1. This is your character’s first brush with conflict, not much, just a little trip up, but it is still a turning point.
    3. Build-up (12-25%)
      1. Start moving the pieces of your plot into place for the Key Event & First Plot Point-build up the tension.
    4. Key Event (@ 25% directly followed by the 1st Plot Point)
      1. This is the moment your character can no longer escape involvement, he/she has to face what they tripped over earlier.  This is the moment they look back over their shoulder, take in a deep breath, then take that first step forward.
    5. 1st Plot Point (@ 25%)
      1. This is the moment that follows that step.  Once your character’s foot touches the ground, they can no longer turn back.  The point of no return when your character gets locked into the conflict.
        1. Maybe a chance to intensity and amp up the stakes
        2. Examples
          1. trapped
          2. new obligation (new force), why is this difficult?
          3. ultimatum:  if this, then that (comes from someone in power)
          4. character becomes pursued
  3. The Second Act (25-75%)
    1. Reaction (25-37%)
      1. Now that your character has taken that step into the unknown, they must scramble to understand the obstacles thrown their way.  They are only reacting at this point as they venture into uncharted waters.  They need time and space to react and their eyes are open to the fact that they might have been living a lie, but they aren’t sure yet.
    2. 1st Pinch Point (@ 37%)
      1. Here we get a reminder of the antagonists power (maybe learn something new about the antagonistic force or what the character can lose), but we get new clues about the conflict.  Raise the tension.
    3. Realization (37-50%)
      1. Our character’s realization about the lie grows and his/her reactions become more informed.  Key-he/she is still reacting not acting.
    4. Midpoint (@ 50%)
      1. This is the moment of truth, when your character finally accepts they have been living a lie.  Your entire story hinges on this moment, this is what keeps your reader interested.  It takes what the reader and/or character already knows and adds an element.  What shadows, clues, seeds have been planted to reach this point?
    5. Action (50-62%)
      1. Now that your character has accepted the truth, he/she can begin to act or change their situation.  This is that moment when they go from reacting to acting and they begin to make headway against the antagonist-no longer avoiding the antagonist.
    6. 2nd Pinch Point (@ 62%)
      1. Here we get a bit of a foreshadow into the 3rd Plot Point.  We are reminded of what’s at stake or what the character has to lose.  Remind us of the power of the antagonistic force.
    7. Renewed Push (62-75%)
      1. The protagonist has renewed his/her attack, he/she is acting and reaches a seeming victory, but…
  4. The Third Act (75-100%) OPENS WITH A BANG AND NEVER LETS UP!!!
    1. 3rd Plot Point (@ 75%)
      1. We are crushed, your protagonist is crushed, this is a dark moment upon the heals of victory.  Your character feels like they are going backwards.
    2. Recovery (75-88%)
      1. Your protagonist is reeling as he/she questions, choices, goal, worth and ability.  They can’t turn away, they are on a runaway train…it is time to confront the lie-like it or not.
    3. Climax Begins (@ 88%)
      1. This is what the journey has been all about, why this experience has been worth the difficulty.  AKA-The Turning Point.  Your readers should be on the edge of their seats as the protagonist and antagonist come face to face.  They should have an idea of what is to come but they should also be suffering the torture of a few shades of doubt.  This is where they get that final clue/vital information, no new info is needed after this point.
    4. Confrontation (88-98%)
      1. The Duel to the Death-what happens here changes the future.  Neither the protagonist nor the antagonist can walk away until…  There needs to be trial her that the character faces where he/she can use the tools gained throughout the story, connect your readers back to your novel.
    5. Climactic Moment (@ 98%)
      1. This is where the Duel comes to and end.  The protagonist’s goal will be met and it will be physically impossible for the conflict to continue.
    6. Resolution (98-100%)
      1. You’ve done it!  Your readers have made it this far, but now they are a hot mess, so you’ve got to talk ’em down of that ledge.  Ease them out of the excitement and lead them to a final decided upon emotion.  Bookend the opening scene as you establish a new norm where the protagonist begins life with the truth.  Don’t forget to tie up any loose ends, readers hate that.

Lay, Lie, Laid, Lain ???

I’m almost 40 years old and I still haven’t figured this one out so I sought out The Grammar Girl.  Here is what I found:

Present Tense

The Grammar Girl starts by differentiating the present tense (happening now):
-Lie does not require a direct object

-Lay requires a direct object

What the heck is direct object?  I majored in Kinesiology, ask me origin, insertion and action of any muscle and I’ll tell you (or I’ll at least pretend that I know), but start talking all grammarish (yep, I made that word up), and you’ll lose me every time.

OK, let’s just call a direct object, a recipient of an action (something’s happenin’ to it).  Here’s Grammar Girl’s examples:

You lie down on the sofa.  (It’s just you, no other thing is goin’ down)

You lay down a book.  (The book’s got a little somethin’ somethin’ goin’ on, somebody’s setting  it down.  The book is the direct object.  Sometimes my kids make me feel like a direct object.

Past Tense

OK, past tense, as in it already happened-we still have in mind the need for a direct object.

-Lie turns into Lay

“Shelly lies down on the sofa” turns into “Shelly lay down on the sofa” (my kids just jump all over my sofa)

-Lay turn into Laid

“Bobby lay down a book on the table” turns into “Bobby laid down a book on the table.”  (It was probably Diary of a Wimpy Kid-seriously, those books are hilarious.  #cheesetouch

Past Participle

What the heck does that mean?  Dr. Google says its “something that happened in the past and is still happening now,” like dirty politicians.

-Lie-turned into Lay-now it turns into Lain

Now, “Shelly has lain on the sofa for days”

-Lay-turned into Laid-and it stays Laid (I have no idea why English is so hard to learn)

Now, “Bobby has laid a book on the table.”

Clear as mud, right.  From what I can tell, we still have to look at the direct object (there’s that grammarish word again) and now have and has enter the picture, just chillin’ out with lain and laid.

If nothing I’ve said here makes sense, head over to Grammar Girl for her “Quick and Dirty Grammar Tricks” and download a copy of the chart I attached here Grammar Girl.

I wanted to make some Hawaii/lei joke here, but I figure one probably already ran through your head, so I’ll let that count.

Now I’m going to go lie down in bed.  Good night.  (No direct object)

Character Flaw Worksheet

DSC_0092 - Copy

I’m new to this whole writing business, and when I first heard about character flaws, I thought they were some way the author messed up writing their character…I had no idea they were what drove the story.

I recently attended a novel boot camp by Ellen Brock, a freelance editor, and she gave a great few lectures (on You Tube) about creating a protagonist people will want to read about.  After listening to her instruction, I sought out some info on the web and have come up with this worksheet to help me identify character flaws in my protagonists, I hope it helps you too.  When you are done with this, head over to my Story Structure Worksheet.

  1. What is the lie your character believes?
    1. My character believes she will never give her heart away again, it has been broken and she has no desire to relive that experience again.  She is content living her life alone, with only the love from the past.
  2. Where did this lie come from, what is it’s origin?
    1. When her boyfriend died in an accident, she feels her heart tear in two.  She believes she can never feel that way about another person again, so why try?
  3. What is the truth?
    1. When she meets the right person, her heart will heal from the past and she is capable of loving just as deeply again.
  4. What goal does your protagonist have? (this is fairly superficial and easily identifiable)
    1. She wants to find peace.
  5. What is your character’s motivation behind this goal?
    1. She thinks finding peace will allow her to move on with her life, not necessarily find love again, but help her from the depression she has fallen into over the loss of her loved one.  With peace she can at least be a productive member of society, like her father taught her.
  6. Now put all of your information into one complete sentence or a couple.
    1. After the death of her high school sweetheart, Sarah is content believing her heart will never love again.  She only wants to find peace with Jeremy’s loss, so she travels to the California coast where she meets a green-eyed surfer under the Pismo Beach Pier.  From the moment his green eyes meet hers, everything she once thought to be true about her past begins to unravel.

Character Arc Worksheet PDF Version

Character Arc Worksheet Microsoft Word Version

Character Arc Worksheet


Character Questionnaire

Ceremony T - Copy

I recently hit a low point in my writing, I found out one of my main characters had no personality, gasp!  So, I did something I swore I would never do, I filled out a couple of character questionnaires and voila, Jeremy suddenly had an awesome backstory that opened him up to some great character flaws.  Now, the questionnaires I filled out were a little repetitive and didn’t give me much room to scratch down my answers, so I combined them and put one together that I plan to use in the future.  If you are stuck or maybe just want to add a little more depth to your characters, give this a shot, you might be surprised what you come up with.

Outline of Questionnaire

A.  First, we find out a little about where your character it at when your story begins (29 questions).

B.  Second, we delve into your character’s parents and grandparents.  This is important because what your character’s family has experienced will influence the type of person your protagonist is, and will become (4 questions, each with a set of sub-questions).

C.  Third, we take a look at your character’s life.  How were they growing up, did they have it good or was it total chaos?  How many siblings did they have, did they like them?  What were their goals and dreams and did they ever reach those goals?  Answering these questions will make your character feel real and believable (12 questions, each with a set of sub-questions broken into age categories:  childhood, teens, young adult, adult, midlife, and senior years).

D.  After you’ve had a chance to reflect on these questions, I recommend you fill out the Character Flaw Worksheet I have provided.  This one is much shorter, only 5 questions-without sub-questions.

Happy writing!

Character Questionnaire PDF Version

Character Questionnaire Microsoft Word Version

Character Questionnaire Present Tense

Character Questionnaire Pedigree Chart

Character Questionnaire Parents

Character Questionnaire Past and Future




Life in Reverse

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I do things–backwards.  Wouldn’t it be much simpler  for me to tackle things head on instead of taking them by the tail and working back towards the head?  But I’ve never been traditional in that sense.  My experience with the whole  novel business is just the same, I thought, hey, I’m going to write a story, then I wrote the story, now I am learning how to write.

I guess I’m just a “hands in the muck” kind of person.  In order for me to learn, I have to get my hands dirty.  I just got the most wonderful books in the mail yesterday and I dove into them last night.  I feel empowered with new ways to improve my manuscript and I can’t wait to get them back from my critiques.  This may not be a best seller, but I am excited to one day put at least one copy on my bookshelf, I’ll probably slide it in backwards.



Lost in Translation

I went to Office Depot the other day to print out my manuscript for my critiques and my two older children said they would like a copy. My four year-old called from the back of the car that she would like one too. When I was dropping her off at pre-school she wanted to talk a little bit more about her copy…

“I’m excited to get my coffee mom. Can I have my coffee in a big girl cup?”

She wasn’t too thrilled when she got handed a stack of papers…not in a big girl cup.


Cut and Paste

I reached another novel milestone today, I just completed a tortuous 2nd draft which involved some very literal cutting ✂️ and pasting 📎. I am so excited to read the story completely through…I wonder how it will end. 😂. Take 3, 🎬 here I come!

It is 307 pages long, 1.5 spaced, 12pt font and contains a whopping 96,000 words.

For a comparison, Twilight was 130,000 words, which was considered a bit long for a first time novel.

cut and paste