At the OWFI Conference, I attended an impromptu workshop by our keynote speaker Steve Berry. Even though he gave the presentation at 7:30 a.m. his enthusiasm for the craft was both obvious and contagious. I found his explanation of story structure clear and hope I can do it justice in this blog.
ACT I – The inciting incident which throws your character’s world into chaos. No sub-plotting at this point.
ACT II – Major events which change everything.
ACT III– Incident resolved in climax. Don’t carry the subplot past the mark on the “main plot” line.
Character – the people in your story.
Okay, I admit, I missed the first few minutes of Steve’s presentation, so I’m winging it on this one. Hey, no one’s perfect, but it provides a great transitions into the part of the workshop I walked in on… Flaws make characters more interesting, complex. Physical, mental, emotional it doesn’t matter, give your characters something to deal with. I’ll write more on character when I get to my notes from Charles Sasser’s “Building Life Into Your Characters” and William Bernhardt’s “Character Driven Novel”.
Conflict – the struggle between two forces.
Whether conflict is internal, external or even a mixture of the two, a good story starts with a strong, interesting action which draws a reader in and hooks them. If you begin with something that complicates your main characters life, and then complicate it even more, it’s a great way to accomplish this. It’s taking a simple idea and exaggerating it to the extreme. Just think of the car rental episode of Seinfeld. Classic case of a simple idea, complicated and exaggerated to the extreme.
“The human heart being in conflict with itself is a conflict everyone can relate to” – Steve Berry
Crucible – the thing which would make your character do something they usually wouldn’t do.
In other words, the thing which makes them leave safety, and head toward danger.
Complication – the thing(s) which stand in the way of the main character achieving goal.
This is where you complicate your main character’s complicated situation.
Subplot – the supporting side story for the main plot.
Avoid dull linear writing and try to keep subplots to one or two. Subplots must emanate from the main plot and help resolve it.
Crisis – the place where all complications meet.
I think of this as the story climax. This is the turning point in the plot after which nothing will be the same for your main character.
Conclusion – the denouement.
This is what happens after the conflict resolution, or in other words the conclusion of the story. All loose ends should be resolved by this point.
After I returned home, I put one of my stories to the test with this diagram and discovered a way to improve it. I hope this information will be just as helpful to you.
Are you already familiar with the three act structure? How do your stories fit within this template?