Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Story Structure for kids (and other beginners)

I've been writing stories since I was a young child, yet I didn't publish my first story until I was 28. That's about twenty years of practice before my stories were ready. I learned by trial and error and developed skills slowly over time. 

The biggest issue with my early stories was that they had no structure. I just wrote whatever came to mind. After a lot of practice, I finally developed a feel for how stories needed to progress. I only discovered story structure after I had written my first book, The Spectra Unearthed, yet that one does fit the beats of a structured story. 

Note: The color coding matches up to my system, which I will discuss later. Note that I have three shades of blue in the middle when I should have only two.

Again, it took me twenty years to get to that point, and about four years of working on that one book. Some authors still write by instinct, and their stories still end up having structure even if they don't do it deliberately. Personally, I find that story structure lets me write faster, and my stories turn out better.

 Nine steps for a simple story

Today I gave my kids a nine-step formula for writing a structured story. I had them write down one sentence per step. When I write, I use a similar formula, though for me, one step equals about three chapters.

1. Who and what is your character? What do they want? Why are they interesting?
2. What will happen to your character? (passive) 3. How does your character choose to change? (active) They choose to interact with step #2. 4. Who or what is stopping your main character? 5. What does your character learn about themselves and the world? 6. What can your character lose? What will happen if they don't win? 7. What goes wrong? 8. What happens when your character faces what's stopping them in step 5? 9. How has your character changed?

Half steps for a more advanced story

For more advanced writers, you might want to add half-steps in between some of these major beats:

2.5: What was your character's life like before the story? 3.5: What is your character's new life like now that they have chosen to change? 4.5: How does your character react to their troubles? 5.5: How does your character prepare to face their troubles? 6.5: What convinces your character to keep trying? 7.5: What hidden strengths can your character draw on to rise above everything that went wrong?

Next, my kids and I looked at KM Weiland's Story Structure database to learn how stories that we already know and love fit our model. We used Harry Potter 1. I've also used the movies Frozen and Aladdin.

(More advanced) My structure system

I used my own story structure system to come up with those nine steps. Many different authors have come up with different story structure systems. They all have similarities, but some of them use different labels for the same point. I started using KM Weiland's model, but soon adapted it for myself. 

Here's a quick overview of my system:
I took the three acts and broke them into eight pieces. Each piece has a specific job and ends in a specific "beat" (which I defined in the steps above).

Look at how my "climax" beats align to the steps/questions from earlier:
1. Who and what is your character? What do they want? Why are they interesting? (Characteristic Moment/Hook)

2. What will happen to your character? (Key Event)
3. How does your character choose to change? They choose to interact with step #2. (First Plot Point)
4. Who or what is stopping your main character? (First Pinch Point)

5. What does your character learn about themselves and the world? (Midpoint)
6. What can your character lose? What will happen if they don't win? (Second Pinch Point)
7. What goes wrong? (Second Plot Point/Low Point)
8. What happens when your character faces what's stopping them in step 5? (Climax)
9. How has your character changed? (Resolution)

Story Structure in The Spectra Books

For my first few Keita's Wings books, I used story structure to turn a messy rough draft into a publishable story. Now I also use it to create an outline before I start writing. I update my outline as I go to help me keep track of where I am in the story and what I need to do next.

Here are some of the finished outlines for some of my books (some of them are cropped to remove spoilers).

Mira's Griffin:

These are color coded instead of labeled by section. Act 1 is yellow, Act 2.A-B are green, Act 2.C-D are blue, Act 3 is red, and I colored the resolution yellow as well.






I broke up each chapter into scenes for DreamRovers to help me keep track of the three point of views. 

Yes, I am a bit obsessed with spreadsheets.

Story structure is a huge topic and I hope this is useful. This is an amazing age when more information abounds if you wish to search for it. Have fun!


1 comment:

  1. That's a very useful post. I will share it with my teen son. Thanks for sharing

    https://momkidlife.com

    ReplyDelete