Diagrams of story structure

Laura J Drake

Knows how to pronounce Kvothe
#2

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#3
I come from a screenwriting background, where story structure is sacrosanct. It's also probably the hardest thing to convince young screenwriters to use. Each one (and I was definitely one of them) believes him/herself to be a genius that can't be bothered with the rules when creating. I was actually in a meeting with a producer, who was doing his damndest to say something nice about my screenplay. So he said, "you have a great three-act structure." To which I replied, "what's that?"

A few frustrating years later, I finally embraced the traditional three-act structure, and not only did I personally find my work improved, I got a lot more meetings/ jobs. In fact, one Chinese producer I've worked with a few times specifically came to LA to look for American writers because he believes Chinese writers do not understand traditional structure (and I will agree with him after working with one show creator).

To get to my point: Structure is incredibly important in the medium of film. Probably in the novel as well, since you do want your conflict to escalate as the plot advances, and that's basically what structure is: points in the plot where events need to happen to shift the flow of the story.
 

Nuomer1

Journeyed there and back again
#4
That looked quite promising - until blasted pinterest cut me off by demanding a login.
I used to have a pinterest account (under a different name, thank the Gods!) which I eventually had to close because I just didn't want to receive their spam any more. Since I am NOT going to give them my new email address, I can only see a few preliminary items from the link.
Sorry. And it really did look quite promising.
 

Tanniel

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#6
I come from a screenwriting background, where story structure is sacrosanct.
This made me think about the differences between story structure in films and in books. No doubt structure is important in a book too; it's hard to imagine a successful novel (especially in fantasy) that doesn't build to a climax towards the end, preferably with some twist (Tolkien's 'eucatastrophe', if you will), before finishing with a denouement.

But I think there is a lot more leeway for books to keep the structure loose, which is unforgivable in films. Take the most successful fantasy series ever, LotR. It has a really lengthy introduction in the Shire and takes ages for the actual plot to get going. In the other end, the denouement after the destruction of the Ring (including the Scouring of the Shire) is like a whole new mini-story. No wonder most of that was cut from the film adaptations.

I imagine it has a lot to do with how we consume each type of media. A book is usually consumed over several sessions, especially if it's really long (or well, like LotR, if it's typically sold as a series). The reader has more patience with slow pacing or digressions, also because we can choose to skim a bit if we really want to move on. In a film, you watch the whole thing in one session, and the speed of watching is locked, so the pacing must be done well.
 

Placida

Owns a Ring of Power
#7
I think there is a lot more leeway for books to keep the structure loose, which is unforgivable in films.
You are probably right on this but I think that difference is narrowing. In today's market, the publishers are looking for a book to grab the audience quickly, preferably on the first page. You can't spend the first few chapters developing your characters as Bronte or Austin might have done. Workshops talk of arcing between chapters and chapters having cliffhangers that "force" the reader to turn the page. I don't know if it's because today's audience has a shorter attention span (used to instant gratification) or it's the plethora of books and other media out there.
 

Tanniel

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#8
You are probably right on this but I think that difference is narrowing.
Yes, that does sound plausible. I think it has to do with increased competition and market saturation. Sticking to the formula, knowing what will appeal to the greatest number of readers, improves the odds of selling a book. It's yet another reason I chose to self-publish, because I knew few if any publishers would be interested in a book with the kind of structure I employ.
 

Nuomer1

Journeyed there and back again
#9
Sticking to the formula, knowing what will appeal to the greatest number of readers, improves the odds of selling a book
And yet . . . calling a work 'formulaic' is not polite. Maybe it will sell, and maybe that is its main purpose and the sum of the author's ambition - but it won't be a Great New Work that becomes a Classic. Sad, but that's the way the world is. Self-pubbing in an ideal world might offer an opportunity to break that mould. But this is not an ideal world!
 

Tanniel

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#10
And yet . . . calling a work 'formulaic' is not polite. Maybe it will sell, and maybe that is its main purpose and the sum of the author's ambition - but it won't be a Great New Work that becomes a Classic.
I feel as if it's a very complicated, grey area. Many great books use the formula to some extent (that's how we know the formula exists and works), but I think they often did at least some things new or had something to recommend them. What concerns me is that some (but of course not all) publishers and editors seem to push hard for books to stick closer to the formula (becoming more formulaic, as you put it), erasing what might make a book unique. Now, what makes a book unique doesn't necessarily make it good, so it's not always unjustified either. But it does diminish the chances of new books being published that innovate the genre.
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#11
I remember an interview with Dave Grohl many years ago when he said they employed the Aerosmith method of song structure of chorus, verse, chorus... yadda yadda (I can't actually find the structure Aerosmith uses, but Grohl did joke about making a song that was just choruses) and thinking how terrible it was that he was in it just to make a successful song rather than making music. But, as Grohl is also quoted as saying "deep cuts don't keep the mansion running" and people buy what they like, so why not give it to them?

I'd argue that Tolkien was pre-traditional structure, at least as we think of it today, which is strongly influenced by film in my opinion. But, as Campbell has pointed out in The Hero's Journey, the seeds of structure have been around since the age of myth. So, if the human mind is hardwired to process stories in a familiar series of beats, I say we give it to them in the way we're primed to enjoy.
 

Placida

Owns a Ring of Power
#12
When I think of a "formulaic" writer, I think of one that follows the same formula over and over or if they obviously pull such a pattern off another writer. They replace villain A with Villain B, Scenery A with Scenery B and MAYBE add a twist. While building chapter sub-arcs that build tension might be slightly formulaic, I think there's enough leeway in there to make the story unique. I think the trick today is to build the character development and world development into the plot. If you stop and discuss the world for 5 pages such as HP Lovecraft might, you'd lose the readers. It has to be built into the way you narrate and I think that makes it much more challenging.

I liked the Periodic Table diagram from @wakarimasen's first post.
http://jamesharris.design/periodic/
 

Nuomer1

Journeyed there and back again
#13
I feel as if it's a very complicated, grey area. . . . Now, what makes a book unique doesn't necessarily make it good, so it's not always unjustified either. But it does diminish the chances of new books being published that innovate the genre.
I think you have put that rather well!
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#14
I liked the Periodic Table diagram from @wakarimasen's first post.
http://jamesharris.design/periodic/
Whelp, that just got bookmarked for the next time I have time to go down the TVtropes rabbit hole.

Favorite one that caught my eye: Ass Pull. When then led me to Chekhov's Gun... which was where I pulled the plug. Because sometimes you just have to say no to the pull of the rabbit hole.
 

Nuomer1

Journeyed there and back again
#15
When I think of a "formulaic" writer, I think of one that follows the same formula over and over
I don't normally post unpleasant comments, particularly about established authors, but . . .
Example: Kathy Reichs has written a couple of dozen books in the 'Temperance Brennan' series, and I have read about half of them. One of them was pretty damned good! Another was also pretty good. The third was beginning to show a familiar structure. The fourth was formulaic. And it doesn't matter what order you read them in, that is the result you are likely to come up with.
On the good side, I notice she now has nine books out in a different series. I was sufficiently impressed with the first two of the Brennan series, that I shall someday soon get round to reading something from the new series - lets see how it goes!
 

Charles Parkes

Stood on the wall with Druss
#16
Just bought a book on screenwriting following a lecture by the author on story structure. I was wondering if I'd find some interesting parallels and creative ideas. His name was Robin Mukherjee
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#17
Just bought a book on screenwriting following a lecture by the author on story structure. I was wondering if I'd find some interesting parallels and creative ideas. His name was Robin Mukherjee
Can't say I'm really familiar with Mr. Mukherjee or his book since it came out in 2014. For the most part screenwriters (at least the ones I know) use Save The Cat by Blake Snyder (terrible movie writer but great guy who knew structure backwards and forwards), which was based on Syd Field's work from way back in the 70s (if my memory is true). Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey was also in vogue for a while (pun!).

And I'll bet my left hand that Robert McKee's Story is probably on every single screenwriter's bookshelf, though I found it less than useless. IMO Save the Cat was by far the best because it was more application based than theoretical.
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#18
Not that anyone's exactly clamoring for this, but I thought I'd give a peek as to how I use these structure outlines for my novels (and TV shows for that matter).

You can't read anything in the picture, but the light blue post-its up top are each of the Blake Snyder beats (Setup, Catalyst, Debate, Break to Act II, Fun & Games, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close In, All Is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break to Act III, and Finale).

Each post-it note below is an event/ beat in the story, the pink for the present day storyline, the blues for the past storyline, the yellows for the characters' emotions, and the pale blue at the bottom for what major events were going on in the world during the past storyline as well as the characters' ages at the time.

I wrote out the events, one per post-it, in as chronological order as I could manage per subplot and then sort of grouped them as to where I knew they would need to go structurally. This helped me order my thoughts and different subplots to see how one event/ beat could lead to the other, which helped me string the single events into groups. Where each grouping ends is where my chapter ends, and I then alternate between the past and present timelines per chapter.

Anyways, this technique is screenwriting 101 and straight of out of the aforementioned Blake Snyder's book (I promise I'm not shilling for him. Plus, he's dead, so what does he care?) with only a slight modification on my part.
Book 2 Outline.jpeg
 

Charles Parkes

Stood on the wall with Druss
#19
Each post-it note below is an event/ beat in the story, the pink for the present day storyline, the blues for the past storyline, the yellows for the characters' emotions, and the pale blue at the bottom for what major events were going on in the world during the past storyline as well as the characters' ages at the time.

View attachment 797
Does anyone else use such a visual method for story structuring? My own experience of drawing a representation of story structure is that it doesn't stay up to date for long, so this post it method seems more flexible.

In my mind perhaps a company hierarchy type piece of software would be best for me - given the branching paths in IF. But I've found the software is often designed for quite specific use, (so I can't snap lines wherever the hell I want, for example.)
 

Tanniel

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#20
Does anyone else use such a visual method for story structuring?
I don't structure things too far ahead either (except the very skeleton of the story, where I plan for it to end), since I often get ideas while writing, and incorporating them means changes further down the line. I only plan out in detail the chapter I am working on, maybe the next couple of chapters too, to ensure I don't miss writing about any particular characters or events that need to take place (my storylines tend to be, I admit, really complicated).

There is one thing I do visually, though. I make columns, one for each major geographical location containing a plotline. Horizontal lines are used to show the days. This way, I know on a given day in the story, what is happening in each of my locations. This is important when characters leave one location and arrive in the next; this way, I know at what point they arrive in the new location/plotline.

Picture for reference (it looks really odd, since they're just shorthand notes that make little sense to an outsider, and I realise now I wrote the dates in Danish for some reason). This is for the first 1/3 of the book. As an example of how the story changes underway, I notice now that I apparently planned for some letter to make an appearance in no. 5, Highlands. No such letter ever made it into the book.

screenshot plots.png