Story Structure and Starting a New Story

Posted on Posted in Starting a New Story

The lovely Harlequin author Fiona Harper posted a great article on Story Stucture over at the Pink Heart Society yesterday. HERE.

Of course I printed it out and added it to my stash of craft notes.

Because I love studying story structure.

This is my 18th book under contract and am I still learning, working, learning, working and I honestly believe that studying the craft of fiction writing will be something I will be doing until the day they snatch the writing implement of the time from my cold dead hands.

Why?  Most people can tell a story. As in, you are never going to believe what happened to me on the bus to work this morning… . But forming that story into words on a page to create an entertaining and emotional piece of writing for a reader? Different beast.

Now some people are naturally able to write that story and know how to craft it.

Others need to bring on a big train load of craft and structure.

Not rules. Not formula [ shows teeth]. Not restriction. But a framework which is used, largely by screenwriters to ensure that your story idea can be developed and revealed in the most effective way – for the reader/audience.

Think of an architect designing two buildings. The foundations are precisely the same – but the final shape and size and interior and appearance of the two house could be completely different. Mock Tudor mansion house and office block. Same footprint. Same basic construction of wall supports and ceiling joists. But on the surface?

Many years ago [ we are talking early 1990s here folks. EEK ] I was thinking about writing commercial crime fiction and looked around for a writing class – no such luck, but there was a screenwriting class by a bloke called Robert McKee over two days in London on something called Story Structure.

This was in dark days without Internet but I took the chance – when I got there, it was full of well known actors and movie directors! Scary!

I went in on a Saturday morning and by Sunday teatime my brain would never be the same again.

Until that weekend I had no clue that every second of a movie is choreographed on the page to create the precise emotional and visceral response in the viewer sitting in the dark in the cinema.

They achieve this through the Structure of the Story.

How? By working to find the best way of expressing that story in the most powerful and effective manner possible – to create the precise emotional reaction they want – at that moment in that scene in the movie. And it all comes from the original screenplay.

One 2 hour movie = 120 page screenplay = 60 perfect 2 minute scenes.

Magic. And rather terrifying.

But what does this have to do with writing Category Fiction?


Most screenwriters I have read freewrite at least a working outline of the story idea to determine if it has potential. They work, and work, and work on the story idea and challenge it so that they can create a Treatment – what we call a Synopsis – which they can pitch to a movie studio.  Characters under pressure undergoing change on the journey.

Some screenwriters will write a fast discovery draft of the whole script then create the Treatment.  Equivalent to the Pantser method. But they then have to rewrite.

And what do the script readers at the studios do when they receive these outlines formed from sweat and tears? They are overworked and have to read 100s of scripts.  So they turn to the pages in the script where the turning points should be and check that the writer has created a compelling forward moving and entertaining story – at the key points in the story.

It is all about structure. And I think we can learn a lot from these techniques. For example, Michael Hague has published many articles using a 7 step framework like this.

michael hague structure

So.  At this point the story is bursting with potential. I have two characters who deserve to love one other. Now to make their journey a rocky road with a few landslips along the way.

Oh. And that bloke Robert McKee? One of the gurus in Hollywood who has since written a best selling but very theoretical reference book ‘STORY‘. And yes I kept the receipt for that weekend course and claimed it back on my first tax return as a published author. :-)

How to sum it up? Darren Hayes ‘On the Verge of Something Wonderful’

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