It took me 5 full years of doing what I’m going to explain to you in this article before I finally felt like I had mastered story structure. Now I’d argue that you never really master structure–or craft–because there’s always something new to learn.
But I finally got to a point where I could pick structure out in a movie without having to watch it a hundred times, and I could actually use structure in my own stories and make it work (I published my first novel, SoundCheck, last June, and my new one is tentatively set for a December launch).
The other day I was thinking about what it took for me to really learn and master structure. And there were three things that stood out to me:
1. I Studied Craft Religiously
Rather than just read a book and set it aside, I actually read Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering (and first, as an eBook called, Story Structure–Demystified) on the daily. Not the whole book, but I was always picking it up and reading sections from it (although I do read the whole book annually and reference it all the time).
I wanted to not only memorize the definitions of the plot points, but I also wanted to memorize what the mission of each plot point was, and what its purpose was in the story.
Super important to know this stuff front and back, otherwise you may misunderstand structure and not be able to use it properly. Which might not seem that bad, but it will be a death sentence for your stories.
2. I Watched Tons of Movies and Deconstructed Them
When I was deep into mastering structure mode, I spent hours of my time every day watching movies. Yes, sometimes even in the place of writing time (this was back when I was less disciplined on doing the writing daily).
Some nights I watched upwards of 3 movies, and just studied the structure points as they unfolded.
I did this for movies mostly in my genre, but I also watched and deconstructed movies in other genres. One especially good genre for studying structure is Thriller, because the plot points usually stand out a lot more than in other genres.
By watching movies and seeing structure illustrated visually, it really helped to cement in my mind how it worked to make a story cohesive and compelling.
Still to this day, deconstructing movies is a hobby of mine. (I’m a story nerd like that.) You can never do it enough.
And every time I have the chance to deconstruct a movie, what I know to be true about structure proves itself to me over and over again.
3. Read Through Story Deconstructions
One last thing I did to really master story structure is to read through story deconstructions from other masters in story structure, to see even more examples of how structure works.
By doing these three things–studying craft, watching movies and deconstructing them, and then reading through deconstructions other people have done, I was able to master story structure. And not just what it is, but also how to use it properly in a story.
If you want to be a master of story structure, I highly recommend you do the three things I listed here on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
Share With Us
Which of the three steps will you implement today? Share in the comments.
And if you want a toolkit to help you do all three things all in one place, check out my Master Story Structure toolkit.
This kit will walk you through the basics of story structure, illustrate how it’s used, and help you actually implement it. This kit is about craft-by-definition, examples, and practicing on your own stories.
Basically it will help you become a MASTER of story structure (which is what every emerging fiction writer and author needs to become).
This kit includes:
•Story Structure Overview (video)
•The Story Structure Cheat Sheet (PDF)
•A collection of 11 story deconstructions of movies (and one novel), including: What Women Want, Rudy, Beerfest, Eraser, Cruel Intentions, and If I Stay (PDFs)
•How To Deconstruct A Movie (Instructional PDF)
•Movie Deconstruction Worksheet (PDF)
•Practice Plan (PDF)
This kit is available THIS WEEK ONLY for $7.
(Why only $7? Because I want EVERY serious novelist to be able to afford it. This is one resource that can truly support you in becoming the badass storyteller you’ve always wanted to be.)
The Master Story Structure kit is a go-to way to help you write better stories, even if you write those stories by the seat of your pants (yes, when a “pantser” is a master of structure, you can write without a plan, a la Stephen King). It also works great for anyone attempting NaNoWriMo this year.