Most of us know what makes a good story. Even if we have no idea what’s going to happen from one scene to the next, we have certain expectations. Almost everyone, however, couldn’t begin to articulate those expectations. We just know.
As a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants with little to no planning), I’m one of those who couldn’t tell you the basic structure a story must have in order to work, except that it must begin with intrigue and tension, and the end – denouement – must be exciting where the protagonist reaches the brink of death or a terrible loss.
Several months ago, Amy Deardon, Author of “A Lever Long Enough” offered to send me a free copy of her new book “The Story Template – Conquer Writer’s Block Using the Universal Structure of Story” as long as I took the time to write a review.
Having thoroughly enjoyed “A Lever Long Enough,” I jumped at the opportunity (and receiving a free e-book didn’t hurt).
What I knew intuitively about structuring a story, Amy spent months studying both books and movies to tie down what every story needs in order for it to work. I’ve read other books about the “Three Act Structure,” but for some reason I always skimmed through it a bit bleary-eyed. Odd for someone who loves math, don’t you think?
I think it was due to not wanting to be constrained in any way while writing my story. I feared it would take away any uniqueness I might add because I would be too concerned about structure.
Amy, however, described it in such a way that it was more of a revelation: “So that’s why it worked (or didn’t)!” As she described in her book, every person’s face is structured the same way, but every face is also unique in a thousand different ways. Stories work the same way.
Knowing the basic structure of a story can truly free the writer to concentrate on the finer details such as characterization, plot and setting. As the title suggests, knowing the structure of a story – and even a chapter – can help with writer’s block. The writer can simply ask, is this part of Act 1 and I need to move on to Act II, or am I already trying for Act III before I’m finished with Act I? Instead of killing creativity as I always fear, Amy’s advice and exercises can instead free it. In fact, as I read through it, I found myself brainstorming ways of fixing errors in my existing work in progress, and I anticipate using her exercises in my future manuscripts. I might have difficulty creating a detailed story board with index cards, however, because my four-year-old son might find it more interesting than his Legos. That said, I happily add Amy’s book to my library of must-have books on writing.