Grappling with Story Structure

I’ve been grappling with story structure as of late. Larry Brooks’s discussion of structure in Story Engineering opened my eyes to the fact that I need to pay more attention to this aspect of my writing—and made me realize that I either need to do some story planning or wrestle my stories into structure in later drafts. He breaks story into four parts, each about 25 percent of the manuscript:

  1. Part One: Setup
  2. Part Two: Response
  3. Part Three: Attack
  4. Part Four: Resolution

Case in point: The first draft of Goblins and Grimoires is done! It’s about 20,000 words too short, though, according to my estimates, based on Larry Brooks’s structure. Part One should be the first 20 to 25 percent of the story. Right now, it’s at 42 percent. Ouch. Some massive expansion of that story is in order, because I feel like most of what takes place in the first part is necessary. Part Two is woefully short and needs a lot of expansion. Over the next few weeks I plan to work on editing and expanding that story.

The thing is, I now have a blueprint. As a result, I’m not so much feeling overwhelmed as I am relieved. I don’t just know that my draft isn’t working; I know why. And that’s a huge help.

So, this week’s progress…

Writing: Wrote a total of 11,885 words—10,771 in Goblins and Grimoires; 807 in “Silver Waters,” a retelling of “The Frog Prince”; and 307 in “The Keeper’s Tale,” a short story.

Reading: Finished reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Continued reading Once Upon a Curse, a short story collection, and started reading Twilight Guardians by Maggie Shayne.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? How do you go about dealing with story structure in your work?

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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at

5 thoughts on “Grappling with Story Structure

  1. I need a lot of work on my story structure. I write the story as it comes and then look at it and go, “Sounds good to me”. And basically don’t follow any rules or structure and have no idea how to change things around to make it fit into the right boxes. But then the rebel in me says, “and why does it need to follow any kind of structure”. Which is why I may never be published . . . .

    1. I think eventually we have to think about structure–but there are so many approaches that we can still maintain a high level of creativity. There’s the hero’s journey, three-act structure, and then there’s Brooks’s approach, which is a lot more detailed than, say, the three-act structure that James Scott Bell proposes. But we each have to come to structure in a way that suits us and our approach to our art.

      I’m trying to get better at story planning and outlining, but I’m a pantser at heart, so I have to work with that. I figure the more I write, the more stories I have under my belt, the better I’ll be at all aspects of my writing. The key is to keep growing.

      Good luck with your work, Chris! If Brooks’s structure feels too rigid, you might want to try James Scott Bell’s “Plot and Structure.”

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