August 25th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Story Structure at

I’ve been busy over the last two weeks with several different story development projects.  I’ve had to draft out the action for the third book in the Jeremiah Hunt trilogy so that I can start writing that when the edits to book two are completed early next month.  I’ve also been working with fellow writer Jon Merz on a Top Secret multi-book project.

In the midst of all this, I stumbled upon a series of posts on story structure by bestselling novelist Larry Brooks over at his Storyfix blog.  Over the years I’ve read a ton of material on how to build and develop stories, everything from Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to Robert McKee’s Story to John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.  As you might guess, I fall squarely into the camp that says a story must have an underlying structure for it to be not only cohesive but stand the test of time and I work hard to build that structure into each of my projects.

Despite my solid understanding of this process, Larry’s Story Structure series was interesting reading because it explained that basic structure in a way that was not only easy to understand but easy to recognize when holding the model up to stories which we might already be familiar.

I suggest that you drop over to Storyfix and read the series for yourself, but I’m going to summarize it here in a nutshell because it is almost a perfect mirror of what I do in my own work.

According to Larry, there are four main building blocks that make up a story.  You must have all of these blocks, and they must be in the proper order, for the story to work.  The four blocks are:

  • The Set-Up
  • The Response
  • The Attack
  • The Resolution

In The Set-Up, the writer must establish the stakes, must make the reader care about the main character(s), and must introduce what is going on in the hero’s life before the first big plot moment.  The Set-Up ends with the inciting incident or first plot point, in which something enters the story that is in conflict with the hero.

In The Response, the hero reacts to the emerging conflict.  He might run, hide, investigate, observe, whatever in order to come up with a plan to deal with the conflict.  Then, just when the hero thinks they have everything together, that they know just how to deal with the conflict, everything changes.

In The Attack, the hero becomes active, tries to fix things to attain the goal that he has set for himself.  He goes from being an observer to being a proactive participant in resolving the problem before him.  The Attack ends with the second plot point, the final injection of new material into the story that gives the hero what he needs for the final confrontation.

In the last of the story building blocks, The Resolution, we discover how the hero finds the courage and growth of character to push forward with a solution to the conflict that has been forced upon him.

Larry goes into a far deeper explanation than I just did, even touching on elements like context shifting midpoints and first and second pinch points to drive the story forward and help it build organically toward its conclusion.  I’ve been writing stories with this basic structure for seven years and I still found something useful and new in his posts.

For anyone looking to get a better understanding of how a story is built from the ground up, I highly recommend it.

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10 comments to “Story Structure at”

  1. Paige Bruce
     · August 25th, 2009 at 12:49 pm · Link

    I’ve always found that understanding the structure helps make the writing flow easier for me. Essays were easy in English class once a teacher broke it up into a few simple rules. Thanks for the link!

  2. Sasha White
     · August 25th, 2009 at 2:50 pm · Link

    Some stories start with the action. I’ve read several articles that say start the book at the moment things change, and I’ve seen it done (and, in fact, tend to do that myself sometimes). Then what you refer to as the set-up, where the stakes are revealed and the character is detailed more so that the reader will care about them, is sort of spread out and interspersed. So I guess the first two steps are blended together, and not easily defined.

    As someone who is a fan of certain structures like you detailed above, have you ever found books that don’t follow that structure that you’ve enjoyed reading? Or do the technical issues tend to take away from your reading enjoyment?

  3. Delilah Devlin
     · August 25th, 2009 at 3:19 pm · Link

    Thanks for the great link. I’m printing out the series to take along on a trip I’m making next week. I’ve read Michael Haug and Vogler, and played with the Novem structure. I’ll see how this compares.

  4. Joe Nassise
     · August 25th, 2009 at 11:31 pm · Link

    You are quite welcome!


  5. Joe Nassise
     · August 25th, 2009 at 11:33 pm · Link

    I have and I enjoy them, primarily because they are more often than not written by people who understand the basic structure of a story AND have the experience to break it due to that understanding. (If that makes any sense…)


  6. Joe Nassise
     · August 25th, 2009 at 11:34 pm · Link

    Good for you! It makes for interesting reading, particularly when you begin to apply Larry’s format to things you have previously read to see how frequently it rears its head.


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