All writers dream of seeing their book turned into a phenomenon. Whether that means a massive movie deal or a cult following, legions of fans, a fully stable bank account or what-have-you, everyone wants a success. And sometimes, the reason a story doesn’t quite pop is because of the story’s structure. It’s got to have a hook. It’s got to be pacey. It’s got to stop the reader from thinking about the washing in the kitchen sink.
There are plenty of books about writing to market (something I know absolutely nothing about, so those books are going to be a big learning curve for me), and how to write a great short story, novella, novel, screenplay, poem, the list goes on; I tend to think the most important thing is to write with passion.
If a story is calling from deep within, if it rushes through your blood, if it needs to be told, there will be difficult days, but you’ve just got to persevere. Everybody tells stories, at the pub, on the phone, on social media. I’m not referring to lies. What I’m talking about here are anecdotes. And we all seem to know how to tell a story.
A vignette from my life: I was having a drink one night with a friend of mine. She needed to tell me something important. What she needed to tell me is, frankly, of no consequence, but the fact remains: the story went absolutely nowhere and took forever doing it. Her story lacked structure. She was trying to build suspense. I finished my drink by the time she got to whatever the point was.
So here’s a tip, gleaned from ten years of barwork and endless years of writing: Don’t leave your audience thinking about their empty glass.
I don’t suggest that writing skills can’t or shouldn’t be learnt. There are plenty of guides on these things and, if you’re of a mind to read them, I’m sure you’ll get something good out of them. For myself, I am lousy at anything mathsy. I don’t do numbers. Basic addition, I can manage, but once we get into fractions and percentages, something in my brain switches off. I suspect I start drooling though, luckily, no one has had to tell me about that yet.
The fact is – we all tell stories. Sometimes, several in the course of a day. You already know about structure. However, if you want to be able to identify particular points in any story and know where those points should appear, here’s a book… and it includes percentages.
Book Review – 5 Secrets of Story Structure by K.M. Weiland
First published, 2016
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Now, I’m not going to bore you with how we know the method in which we tell a story. Maybe it goes back to childhood stories and nursery rhymes, maybe it’s from watching TV and films, maybe it’s just inherent, woven into our DNA. Through stories, the children of cavemen could learn the perils of an unforgiving environment and dangerous beasties.
In this little guide from K.M. Weiland, the reader is shown, with useful examples from popular films and novels, exactly where certain plot points occur. The hook, the inciting event, the first, second and third acts, pinch points, climax and conclusion. It’s all in there, and with very detailed descriptions of the various terms and where these moments in the story should appear.
I think this guide would be very useful for someone wanting to add an extra and intentional layer of structure to their writing. Although, for myself, it takes a lot of the romance and the magic of storytelling out of the process, I can see how this guide would be useful for those who enjoy mathematical structure and the precision of a formula.