Structure – sounds easy, sounds good, and we have an understanding of all the little words strung together to make it sound very ‘writerly’ and vague.
It’s not. Vague, that is. And it can be very simple – but only once you work out which method, which form, works best for the way you work.
So, let’s have a look, shall we?
Structure – from Concept to Storyboard
The first thing to do is find an idea, and from the idea we build a concept of a story and then we turn it into a premise (read Larry Brooks for examples).
Idea: travel to Darwin; concept: travel to Darwin by camel and stop at Rainbow Desert [etc.]; premise: harassed daughter travels with mother [to find a good spot to bury her where no one will find the body!] to Darwin by camel, stopping at Rainbow Desert, etc.
Some people do log-lines for this purpose (see Save the Cat by Snyder), some people like to write out the ‘initial idea’ scenario, some people do other things – what do you do with your idea?
In order to do the ‘Good Story Well Told’ the critical things to know are:
Does the title and cover tell you what it is? If not, why would a reader go further? And if they get the wrong idea about what it is and go in, will they be disappointed? Very important.
What is it? It’s the hero’s story – who he is, who/what he’s up against, and what’s at stake. The premise with the most conflict, the baddest bad guy, the clearest goal – that’s a winner concept. So, it’s about a guy … who is someone we can learn from, want to follow because we are connected to him by empathy, deserves to get what he needs/wants, has the best reason for the stakes at risk. Choose the most suitable character and premise for the genre of the story.
A scene is one event in one place/time from one POV where something happens.
A beat is an action-reaction – a movement.
And we come to a Beat Sheet. There are lots of examples out there; some are very complex, some are very simple. Some have only five beats, some have nine, some have fifteen. Choose the one that works for you (I like Snyder, but have amended to suit the way I work – you can too).
Fill in the main beats: the Inciting Incident, the First Plot Point (1PP), the MidPoint (MP), the Second Plot Point (2PP) – then go back to fill in the bits in each Part.
Part 1 (Act 1 for some) 25% of the story – contains the Setup, Catalyst (or Inciting Incident), and ends (after the Debate) when the DECISION is made to step forward (this is the 1PP);
Part 2 (Act 2, part 1) 25% of the story – contains the response: running, learning, hiding, challenging; mistakes happen; initial attempts at attack don’t produce the results expected; losses happen (Snyder calls it the Fun ‘n Games section); this is the place for a pinch point (which is ‘see the baddy’), ends with the MidPoint;
Part 3 (Act 2, part 2) 25% of the story – contains the Attack, by them and hero (MC) using new info, new knowledge of tools, courage, etc. in an attempt to overcome the (committed and powerful and complex and cunning) enemy/bad guy/antagonist. Several bits here: another pinch point in the middle somewhere, an All is Lost moment, the Dark Night moment, and ends with the 2PP;
Part 4 (Act 3) 25% of the story (no new info in this part) – contains the resolution and finale, the lessons learned can be used in more effective way, the lessons learned put to good use, better equipped to move on, change and growth into the hero – evolved from coward to courageous, from isolated to engaged, inner demons conquered. Now prepared to act, to apply learning to implement heroic decisions – even to the point of martyrdom. This is where the six things (see Snyder) are shown as proved or disproved or irrelevant.
That’s what the four parts are, the four q’s. Find a beat sheet to put the right things in each of the four q’s and you’re well on the way. Oh, and don’t forget – for every sub-story within the main story, do another beat sheet and board (the board if the story is complex), and it’s a good idea to do one for the antagonist as well.
The structure of the four q’s can be used with Aristotle’s Incline – just put the pieces along the line instead of in the picture of four parts.
And what do we have:
An Idea is developed into Beat Sheet, which evolves into Story Board (the 4q’s), which becomes your Story.
With the beats written out, filled in on the 4q board by the scenes that set up the main beats, scenes that respond to the beats – oh, my – there are so many scenes – I could write a whole novel from that! Yes, because structure is 80% of the work of story. Now it’s up to you to put the best effort into laying out the words that pull your reader in so far they don’t want to come out until … The End.