Star Wars Story Structure


Outlines, outlines and more outlines.  I’ve spent the past few days mulling over major milestones of several well-known stories.  I wanted to jot some of them down, because this exercise is helping me feel the cadence of writing an entire novel.

STAR WARS (A New Hope):  I can’t do a post about story structure without discussing STAR WARS!!!!  There are MANY, MANY posts on this topic.  I’ve skimmed a bunch of them and chosen the points that make the most sense to me.  Here goes:

HOOK:  Most of the posts I’ve read online have stated the hook in Star Wars is that Luke Skywalker is a bored young farm boy who longs for adventure.  Now, as a new writer, who am I to question the experts, right?  But as a movie spectator, this was NOT the hook for ME.  What hooked me was Darth Vader storming Leia’s ship and taking her hostage.  I wanted to find out what happened next.  Isn’t that the very definition of a hook?       

INCITING INCIDENT:  This story never would have happened if Luke Skywalker had left R2D2 alone.  But Luke’s adventure begins when he accidentally triggers Princess Leia’s distress message in R2D2.  

PLOT POINT #1:  I always think of this milestone as the “point of no return.”  The hero must make an important decision at this point in the story.  In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker CHOOSES to go with Obi Wan Kenobi to fight the Empire.

PINCH POINT #1:  Ah, yes.  The antagonist makes his presence known in this part of the story.  Luke Skywalker narrowly escapes capture by Imperial Storm Troopers when he tries to leave Tattooine with the droids.

[NOTE:  ENTER THE ALLIES – Luke Skywalker picks up allies (Hans Solo and Chewbacca) who help him escape being caught in this pinch point.]

MIDPOINT:  The story COMPLETELY changes when Luke Skywalker shows up where the rebel base is supposed to be and discovers that the entire planet of Alderaan has been blown up.  Well, if THAT isn’t a game changer, then I don’t know what is.  Oh, wait.  There’s more.  He and his new friends are pulled into the Death Star.  They discover Princess Leia is on the ship.  NEW PLAN!!!  Rescue Princess Leia!

PINCH POINT #2:  Avoiding death by garbage compactor and then escaping the Death Star was a pretty big pinch point……  And let’s not forget the infamous “All Is Lost” moment:  Obi Wan Kenobi dies.  Luke loses his mentor.  This is definitely the bleakest moment in the story.

PLOT POINT #2:  This milestone was a little trickier for me to see clearly in this story.  It’s supposed to be the point when the hero finally attains the final object or piece of information that he or she needs to achieve his or her goal.  After several attempts at trying to detonate the Death Star, Luke finally decides to trust his ability to manage “The Force.”  He shuts off the computer on his ship and just lets The Force guide him.  So, to me, it isn’t that he finally ACQUIRES something – he finally USES something that he always had.  So maybe he acquires confidence?  I’m not sure.

RESOLUTION:  Yay!  The Death Star is blown up and everyone is saved.  Of course, there has to be tangible recognition of the hero’s victory.  What better way to tangibly acknowledge the hero’s victory than an award ceremony?  Princess Leia awards Luke and Han with an award and everyone in the large audience claps.  Woo-Hoo!

Well, that was fun.  It definitely gave me some ideas for the cadence of the Charlie Weaver story.  I hope that this post helped some of you out there too.  Thank you for reading!

Post 10: Story Structure SETUP

Okay, I feel like pulling my hair out of my head.  I’ve spent the last few days poring over books and online posts about story structure setup.  For the love of whatever deity you want, I know that they’re writers, but is it necessary to be so wordy?  Why don’t they just get to the point?

For my own sake and the sake of other irritated novice writers, I’m just going to cut through the flowery crap and get to the point.  The Setup of a story is the first 25% of a story.  It does exactly what it sounds like it does – “sets up” the hero to make a pivotal decision at a major plot milestone called the First Plot Point.  In this post, I’ll start the discussion of Setup by presenting a quick overview of my interpretation of the Setup.

Every story runs on a timeline.  The clock is always running in a book.  Every action, event, and word that the author uses must keep the story moving forward along this timeline.  If not, the story loses its momentum and possibly, its reader.  That’s where the story structure milestones come into play.

A story’s timeline can be broken down into four parts or quadrants:

1.  First 25%:  Setup

2.  Second 25%:  Response

3. Third 25%:  Attack

4.  Final 25%:  Resolution

In case you’re wondering, the classic three-act structure is just another way of breaking down a story.  I’ll just mention it here to avoid confusion:

1.  First 25%:  Act 1 (Set up)

2. Second 25%:  Act 2A (Response)

3.  Third 25%:  Act 2B. (Attack)

4.  Final 25%:  Act 3 (Resolution)

I’m just going to use the quadrant terms because I’m used to it.  Within each quadrant, there are pivotal milestones that keep the story moving along the timeline.  The milestones in the Setup are as follows:


  1. Hook
  2. Inciting Incident
  3. First Plot Point (20-25%)

I like learning things “top down,” so I’ll start at a higher level and discuss the Setup as a whole before deep diving into purpose of the Setup’s milestones in a different post.


For me, a story’s Setup is the most difficult portion of the book to write.  I’m an impatient reader.  I guess that’s why I’m an impatient writer.  I just want to get to the heart of the conflict and move on with life.  But, wait a second.  According to the “writing experts,” that’s not what I’m supposed to do.  And to be fair, after reading more about the setup’s purpose, I agree with them.

Basically, the Setup shows what the hero’s life is like before he or she is dragged into conflict.  The author must accomplish two primary objectives in this section of the book:


I struggled with this.  Diving straight into the main conflict on page one just seemed like a cool thing to do.  But why should the reader care if Anita Bath is about to jump off the cliff on page one?  Who cares if Jacque Strap just caught a disease?  What difference does it make if Holden Magroin holds up a liquor store?  I could keep going, but I’ll stop here.  You get my point.

The best writers make their readers weep or cheer or both for their heroes within the first quadrant.  Think Harry Potter and his dysfunctional Muggle family.  Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon kept him in a cupboard under the stairs.  His cousin Dudley was a bully who subjected him to daily torment.  Harry didn’t even get to celebrate his eleventh birthday or any other birthday.  Is there anything more pathetic?  I wanted Harry to turn his relatives into slugs and crush them under his heel.  Go get ‘em, Harry Potter!  Turn them into slugs!  But that’s what I mean.  We all cared about Harry from the very beginning of the story.

And what about poor Katniss Everdeen?  She and her family were starving in poverty-stricken District 13 before she was dragged into the Hunger Games.  When her father died, she stepped up to take care of her mother and sister.  She was honorable and a fighter.  Who wouldn’t root for this girl?

Luke Skywalker was bored out of his mind living with his aunt and uncle on a farm in Tattoine before flying away to fight the Evil Empire.  We could sense his yearning for excitement and adventure, but admired his willingness to stay home another year to help his uncle with the farm.


For me, the best stories also show the antagonistic force at work in the “Life Before” world.  The first chapter of Harry Potter talks about “The Boy Who Lived” without an explanation of how.  In “Star Wars,” we see Princess Leia being taken prisoner by Darth Vader but we really don’t know why.  Both of these books use prologues to show the antagonist at work WITHOUT fully explaining their evil plans.

The Hunger Games uses a slightly different technique.  It doesn’t have a prologue, but we still immediately understand that something is wrong within the first few pages.  We meet Katniss for the first time on an unusual day.  The streets of her town are empty.  There are no coal miners trudging along to work.  There’s a mysterious event called a “reaping” that’s going to take place.  Obviously, “Life Before” isn’t very good for Ms. Everdeen.

All three stories do a fantastic job of pacing the information exposition in the first quarter of the book.  None of the authors just dumped the entire world on the reader like a cold bucket of water.  They slowly immersed the readers into their worlds.  Everything in these setups leads to a critical decision that each hero makes at the first Plot point, which I will discuss in more detail in my next post on story structure.

Post 5: Story Structure – “The Hero’s Journey Mad Libs”

I’m a terrible person to take to the movies.  Just ask my husband.  “Gravity” was on T.V. a few months ago.  Do you know this movie?  It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  They’re astronauts.  They have a problem with their space shuttle.  They float around in space trying to figure it out.  Their lives are in danger.  Yada, yada, yada.  I suspect that there’s some tear jerking ending that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it.  It’s all very suspenseful.

“Gravity” received positive reviews, so my husband wanted to watch it.  Unfortunately for him, I’ve been studying story structure and I’ve discovered a new game.  It’s called “Guess How The Movie Ends Without Watching It.”  I told my husband what I thought would happen, which ruined that movie for him.  When I looked up the synopsis of the movie later, it turned out I was correct.

I know.  I’m awful.  No one will ever hang out with me at the movies again.  But seriously, we don’t have a lot of free time these days.  Who wants to waste two hours watching a movie when you know how it’s going to end?  I did the two of us a favor.

I’ll stop here to issue a warning.  If you don’t want to ruin stories/movies for yourself, stop reading here.  Anyone interested in ruining stories for friends and loved ones should keep reading.

If you think movies are formulaic, you’re right.  Most stories follow the same basic pattern.  The only change is the context.  The better the storyteller, the better the context.  Two authors who are famous for their work on story structure are Joseph Campbell (“The Hero With A Thousand Faces”) and Christopher Vogler (“The Writer’s Journey”).  Both of them discuss a commonly used storytelling formula known as “The Hero’s Journey.”  Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but most popular books and movies don’t deviate from this formula.

I found this pseudo-“Mad Libs” template for the “Hero’s Journey” on the internet.  (Source:  It does a great job of demonstrating how the formula works in two movies – Star Wars and Harry Potter.


[Insert Hero] is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of [Insert Location].

[Hero] is rescued from [Insert 1st Antagonist] by wise, bearded [Insert 1st Ally] who turns out to be a [Insert Special Occupation].

[1st Ally] reveals to [Hero] that [Hero’s Father] was also a [Insert Special Occupation] and the best [Insert Person with Special Skill] he had ever seen.

[Hero] has many adventures in [Insert New Magical Location] and makes new friends [Insert New Allies].

In the course of these adventures, [Hero] distinguishes himself as a top [New Magical Occupation], making a direct [Insert Strike Against Enemy] that secures the [Insert Group Of Allies] victory against the forces of [Insert Evil Enemy].

[Hero] also sees off the threat of [Insert Enemy Leader], who we now know murdered his [Insert Loved Ones]. 

In the finale, [Hero] and his new friends receive [Insert Recognition]

All of this is set to an orchestral score composed by John Williams.



So here’s how this would work with Star Wars:

LUKE SKYWALKER is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of TATOOINE. 

LUKE is rescued from ALIENS by wise bearded BEN KENOBI who turns out to be a JEDI KNIGHT.

BEN KENOBI reveals to LUKE that LUKE’S FATHER was also a JEDI KNIGHT and the best PILOT he had ever seen.

LUKE SKYWALKER has many adventures in THE GALAXY and makes new friends HAN SOLO AND PRINCESS LEIA.

In the course of these adventures, LUKE distinguishes himself as a top X-WING PILOT, making a direct HIT that secures the REBEL victory against the forces of THE EVIL EMPIRE.

LUKE SKYWALKER also defeats the threat of LORD VADER, who we now know murdered his UNCLE AND AUNT. 

In the finale, LUKE and his new friends receive MEDALS OF VALOR

All of this is set to score composed by John Williams.



Hey!  That was fun!  Let’s try this with Harry Potter:

HARRY POTTER is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of SUBURBIA.

HARRY is rescued from MUGGLES by wise bearded HAGRID who turns out to be a WIZARD.

HAGRID reveals to HARRY that HARRY’S FATHER was also a WIZARD and the best QUIDDITCH PLAYER he had ever seen.

HARRY POTTER has many adventures in HOGWARTS and makes new friends RON AND HERMIONE.

In the course of these adventures, HARRY POTTER distinguishes himself as a top QUIDDITCH SEEKER, making a direct CATCH that secures the GRYFFINDOR victory against the forces of SLYTHERIN.

HARRY POTTER also sees off the threat of LORD VOLDEMORT, who we now know murdered his PARENTS.    

In the finale, HARRY POTTER and his new friends receive THE HOUSE CUP.

All of this is set to score composed by John Williams.

Wasn’t that fun?  This kind of feels like telling the truth about Santa Claus, but I think it’s an awesome template.  What a great way to summarize the plot of a new novel!

All kidding aside, I admit that I’m curious to see if this template works in practical application, so I’m going to use it as a starting point for my next manuscript.  Now all I need is a four-syllable name for a protagonist and I’m ready to go.