My parents gave me my first diary when I was nine years old. It was a Hello Kitty diary with a lock on it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I didn’t understand why I felt drawn to writing, but now I realize that even at that young age, I could feel the power of putting words on paper. I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I began all of my entries with a “Dear Diary” greeting. In junior high school, when I became too cool for that Hello Kitty diary, I switched to journals. And in high school, my journal entries switched from “Dear Diary” greetings to “Chere Amie,” because I was taking French and it just sounded more sophisticated. Amid the trials and tribulations of unrequited teen love, I kept jotting down story ideas.
So why am I rambling about my journals? Because I’m like many hopeful writers. I have notebooks filled with story ideas. But a good idea without good execution isn’t enough. I didn’t realize how important this was until I stumbled across a blog written by Larry Brooks called Storyfix.com. His blog really appeals to me because, well, let’s face it. I’m an engineer. I like formulas. He wrote a book called Story Engineering, which is the closest thing that I’ve seen to a formula for writing novels. My assessment on what he’s written is that two key things are essential for good storytelling execution: conflict and architecture.
So what separates an idea from a story? Conflict. You can have the best idea in the world, but without conflict, it isn’t a story. How do you create conflict? First, the hero has to really want something. These are the stakes. Second, the hero has to face opposition on his quest to obtain his goal. And there’s your conflict.
Now, in my assessment, story structure is essentially the architecture of your story’s conflict. It sets the pacing of the story. You don’t want the hero to get what he or she wants too quickly, but you also don’t want to drag things out. This is where story structure comes into play.
Stories can be broken down into quadrants, as follows:
Within the story quadrants, there are pivotal milestones that set the pacing, as follows:
- Inciting Incident
- First Plot Point
- First Pinch Point
- Second Pinch Point
- Second Plot Point
Rather than make this an incredibly long, drawn-out post, I’m going to wait for the kids to go to sleep and write about these milestones in the detail that they deserve. Bear with me and enjoy the storytelling ride!