Thor's Thoughts: Story Structure

Greetings, young writers of Earth.

Today, I am rather pressed for time. As you may know, a movie has released only three days ago chronicling one of my many adventures. I would encourage all of you to view it soon, and please forgive my brother his shortcomings. He has learned a great deal since these events took place.

At least, that is what we hope.

Today, I would like to point you to a few resources that will help you structure your stories. I have found each of these useful at various times and with various projects. I hope you will experiment with them and find what is right for you.

The Seven Point System

I recently put this to use for a short story, to great effect. A brief explanation is given by Lisa Buchard, but the best/most exhaustive explanations I've found are a series of YouTube videos by Dan Wells. Both are linked below.

Lisa Buchard's Explanation

Dan Wells Video 1
Dan Wells Video 2
Dan Wells Video 3
Dan Wells Video 4
Dan Wells Video 5

The Three Act Format

This is a standard in Hollywood screenwriting, but can also work well for novels. The very basic explanation of this is as follows (and please forgive me, I can't remember who originally explained it this way):

Act One: Chase your characters up a tree.
Act Two: Throw rocks at them.
Act Three: Get them down.

In essence, this is a basic story arc that every story should follow. Insert a few failures and road blocks to make things more interesting and increase the tension, and you have a well-rounded story.

The BeatSheet

I first learned about this from a friend (well, my alter-ego did) and it has come in handy for pacing purposes. You can use it as a strict outline/road map, or as a guideline. Even the simple act of studying the beat sheet and knowing which emotional beats to place at certain points throughout the story can help.

Save The Cat BeatSheet

These are tools I have used in my own writing. I'v also heard of some who start with a beginning and work backward, or who write an outline and fill in the story around it, literally in the same document. then there are Discovery Writers, for whom these tools will be put to use after the first draft is written and you want to revise for stronger structure.

What are some tools you use when structuring your story? Whether you do it before drafting or after, I'm interested to know what other tools are available to us as writers.



  1. Personally, I love story structure. Knowing that writers better than I have formulas to follow on occasion-- and that I can follow the same formula if I wish-- is really encouraging. Also, knowing that a book isn't just a series of scenes thrown together in the pot and if the public doesn't like it, you have to mix it up again in a different form-- that's nice to know too.

    But I'm a discovery writer at heart, and although I'd love to be able to write from a nice, neat outline on the paper, I love what I do, getting blown away by the plot twists more than the readers do. However, the Hollywood Formula is very simple and very easy to follow-- even moreso if you go by some versions of the formula, in which the first act is a quarter of the book, the second act is the next two quarters, and the third act is the last quarter. With that, you can basically structure your story by mathematics.

    The seven point structure, however, is easier explained than done-- and it's easier to use on completed works as an analysis technique than it is to form a first draft around. I've seen Dan Wells explain it a few times, but all of those plot points could be anywhere in your story, except the introduction, midpoint, and resolution (which is basically the Hollywood Formula).

    I haven't seen the beat structure one, so I'll look into that. It sounds interesting.

    Very good post!

    1. Thank you! Thor does a decent job most of the time.

      the thing I love about Dan Wells, is that he IS a discovery writer. He uses the Seven Point system to give himself a tiny bit of structure and an ending to write toward, but he free-writes everything else and he loves it.

      For me, as an outliner, I *HAVE TO KNOW* where I'm headed, what I'm writing toward, and everything between. The Beat Sheet helps me a lot with that, but I tend to start with the Seven Points and build my outline upon it. Honestly, I use all three of these at some point in the process. And there are MANY more!

      (Thanks so much for your comment!) - Darci/THOR

    2. I'll take another look at the 7-point structure this week. I did see those Save the Cat beats, and they look interesting. Definitely quite formulaic, but good things to keep in mind for ideal plot points.