Basic Story Structure

Story Structure 101

by Deborah Owen

All creative writers are bound to an invisible law of journalism. From the beginning of time, the same structure has been used. All of the great writers use it. But after this lesson, you will see that story structure is far more than the initial breakdown:

  • Exposition – the beginning, what the story is about
  • Conflict –  man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. internal conflict
  • Climax – releases the main plot
  • Resolution – resolve all situations

If you google “story structure,” you will find many variations. You might find plot, conflict, conclusion – or theme, climax, and conclusion. No matter how you word it, the basic answer is the same. Without any one of these elements, the story will flounder.

But you must expound on the following things, no matter what kind of story you are writing:

  • Point of View (POV)
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Writing style
  • Genre

If you want to transfer your reader from their sofa or chair to the scene in your mind, you must use settings. This can be anything from an open window with a curtain blowing in the breeze to a murder scene in progress. The best idea is to open midway through an action scene. This will grab your audience quicker and keep them longer, as they read to find the outcome.

There is a difference between plot and theme. Plot is the event (or series of events) that occurs in the story. Plot is the central heart of what the story is about. Theme, on the other hand, is the underlying motivation that drives the story.

The open window with the curtains blowing in the breeze is part of a setting, which in turn is part of the larger picture, the plot. Every time there is an event in the story, you must ask yourself these questions: “Why is the window open? How did the window get opened? Obviously, someone opened it. But why?” These questions move you into the theme of the story. Always ask yourself, who, what, when, where, why and how. The answer to these questions is the theme that drives the story, the underlying motivation of the story – if you will, the reason why the story is there.

Point of view is how the reader sees the story. If you tell it in first person point of view (I went to the store…), the reader will see the story through your eyes. If you tell it in third person point of view, (he went to the store…), the reader will see the story through the character’s eyes. New writers usually like to write in first person, but the majority of editors are now mostly buying third person. This new trend makes a huge difference in choosing your POV.

A few brief words on some of the above: Characterization – make your characters real to the reader by concentrating on descriptions, attitudes, failures, and quirks. Dialogue – it’s okay to use accents, but preferably not on the main character. And for settings – use anything that describes where a person is, or will be in conjunction to plot or theme.

What problems do you have in story structure? Let us know in the comments below! For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice newsletter at www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com!