“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” — Martin Luther
When I first began writing fiction, I struggled...a lot! I had trouble coming up with ideas. I found myself frustrated, deleting my work. Sometimes, I'd barely make any progress, not knowing how to construct my thoughts.
I then began to do some studying. Once I found out about the structure of stories and how to outline my own, this made the world of a difference!
You see, writing a story is like building a house. You have the freedom of what color to make it, how many rooms to have, how high to build it, and what materials to use. Picturing the dream house in your mind is easy, but without blueprints, it's going to be a headache to create what you envision.
Many jump into writing ignorant to the fact that story has structure. You may have made this mistake yourself, finding it difficult to continue a great story idea you started because you don't know where to go.
Not every story is written with an outline, but every story follows one. Here is my simplified version of story structure, which I have created after taking some ideas from others. If you've done any research on story structure before, you will see some similarities. I hope my basic layout is easy to understand and helps you take your writing to the next level.
The intro is where the story begins. A story almost always starts out with what is assumed to be ordinary by the reader. This is sometimes different if a writer decides to have their story start out with a BANG (for example, a suspenseful story might start with a chase scene, or a horror story might start with a fright), but for the most part, most stories start with setting the scene.
The introduction has two main crucial things it shows the reader. The first is it sets the scene. The second is it shows the main character's desire, or what they think they desire. The goal of the writer is to show these two things in an engaging way, something that hooks the reader/viewer. It has to be something that tugs on an emotional. That could be fear, humor, sympathy, etc.
Let's use the movie Shrek for example. It starts off by introducing the main character, showing the viewer his swamp and his home in a comical way. In the beginning, he's reading a book about a knight saving a princess and mocks the idea of love by using the page for toilet paper.
It also shows Shrek's desire. He is seen building a sign that is meant to scare trespassers away. We then see him scare off some men that come near his swamp. You get the idea that Shrek likes his privacy.
I hope you can see how the movie Shrek hit the two main points in the section of the intro. They showed the setting where the story begins, which will contrast with the story's adventure. You can then see how they showed the main character's desire for privacy.
The adventure of the story is easily the longest part of the story. This is where a character is given a quest to go on or accomplish in order to obtain a goal or desire they have. Usually, they are forced into a predicament that causes them to have no other option but to leave the comfort of their home and set out on an adventure.
Using Shrek as an example again, our main character has his privacy interrupted when the fairytale creatures are dumped in his swamp. This forces him to set out on an adventure with his new guide, Donkey, to regain his privacy.
The story then extends the adventure by having Lord Farquaad send Shrek on a perilous journey to rescue his princess in order to receive what he wants.
The main point of the adventure is to show the weakness of your characters and the obstacles they have to overcome. We see from this movie that Shrek struggles with communication skills. You can see he's not great at being friendly and showing or receiving affection, causing different obstacles throughout. For Donkey, we see he has physical fears, like the bridge over lava.
The adventure often leads to a climactic end, which I would consider the mini-climax. This is where Shrek saves Fiona, but in most cases, a story doesn't end here. The story continues, leading to hardship.
Many consider this physical climax as the main climax of the story. While this is the highest physical point of the story, in my opinion, the main climax of the story is where the emotional and physical climax clash, which you will see in the sections below.
The hardship, also known as the main failure or emotional climax, is where our main character reaches their lowest point. This is often a forgotten moment in a story, but it has great importance!
If a character never has a hardship they have to overcome, there's no transformation. They'd be perfect and never evolve throughout a story.
Going back to Shrek (if you haven't seen this movie yet, you're really missing out), we see Shrek's failure come when he overhears a conversation between Fiona and Donkey, thinking that Fiona says he is unlovable.
Since Shrek's weakness is communication skills, and we can clearly see his struggle with affection, he sees this as his defeat, turning Fiona over to Lord Farquaad and going home.
This hardship also leads to Shrek's flair of anger, pushing away his friend Donkey, one of the saddest scenes of the entire movie.
The purpose of this section is to draw in the reader, reminding them of the weakness and struggle they saw at the beginning of the story. The story should draw in the reader/viewer emotionally at this point, causing them to want the character to overcome this final obstacle.
The next section is the climax, one of the most obvious sections of a story. This is where the character will get back on their feet, overcome their weakness, and reach for what they need. This is also where it becomes clear to the main character that what they wanted is not actually what they needed.
The purpose of the climax is to bring a story full circle, showing that the adventure had a reason. The adventure pointed out the weakness, leading to hardship. The climax is where that weakness is overcome, leading to a triumphant victory.
In Shrek, we know that what he wanted in the story is privacy, but he realizes in the end that he needed friendship and love. There's a beautiful scene where Shrek finally faces his feelings, asking for Donkey's forgiveness. This then leads to them racing to the wedding to put a stop to the ceremony.
From here, we see the emotional climax and physical climax clash together, releasing the greatest tension of the story. The physicality of the scene has Fiona revealing she is an ogre, Shrek and Fiona almost being taken away by guards, Lord Farquaad announcing that he is king, and then the dragon eating Lord Farquaad.
We see Shrek is a changed person when he says he loves Fiona. This brings everything together in beautiful harmony, leading to the conclusion.
The conclusion of a story usually has a setting similar to the beginning, yet it contrasts at the same time. For example, using Shrek one last time (by the way, did you know Shrek is based on a book?), the story ends taking place in the swamp again. The contrast we see is that it is no longer just Shrek, but it's full of others and he's happy about it! There is a change visibly noticeable.
The conclusion also shows that a character has ultimately found what they needed, even if it's not what they wanted. Shrek thought he wanted privacy, but realized he needed to learn a lesson about love and friendship. We see that he has ultimately learned this lesson when he marries Fiona.
If you're a new writer looking to put pen to paper, keep these sections in mind. Understanding the crucial sections of a story will help you implement them into your own, making it flow in a fashion that your reader will enjoy!
Not every writer uses an outline, but I would recommend giving it a shot. It's good practice to use story structure when planning out your story, even if you don't follow it perfectly. Understanding some of the main scenes and important structures of stories will help you write a story that hits the critical points. A story without these sections will very likely feel empty as if something is missing.
The main goal of story writing is to satisfy the reader. If you aren't sure your reader is going to be satisfied, try checking if you're implementing these sections. It might make the difference between a good and bad story!
If you enjoyed this post about my five-section breakdown of a story, then you might like these books!
Books on writing: