Friday, June 24, 2011

Seven Point Story Structure

Late Tuesday night on my way home to Hawaii, somewhere high over the Pacific Ocean, just as the battery on my laptop was about to die, I finished Draft Four. To celebrate the epic moment, I read a Diana Wynne Jones novel, ate a candy bar, and then played tic-tac-toe with the six-year-old Polynesian girl in the seat next to me.

The next day, when I had my feet on the ground again, all the flaws in my manuscript came round to haunt me. Four drafts and the story still wasn't right, and I couldn't see how to fix it.

After tearfully confessing to my husband that if I can't get this book to work I want to quit writing and take up a new hobby, he had me sit down and listen to this great lecture on story structure by author Dan Wells. I've included the first part here:

You should watch all five parts yourself, but here's what I got out of it:


-Sets up the situation
-Propels the character out of the initial situation
-Something bad happens that forces the character to action
-Character begins to take action
-Something really bad happens, it looks like all is lost
-The character figures out how to save the day
-A new state of being is reached that shows progress or change from the initial state

But that's not all! Really great stories have multiple story lines running at the same time, and each one can follow this structure. In the last part of this lecture, Dan Wells talks about mapping multiple story lines to check for pacing and how to build killer scenes by stacking up plot points.

I just had to try it! And when I did, I REALIZED WHAT WAS WRONG WITH MY STORY!

Oh, happy day!

I picked out the four most important story lines and wrote out each of the seven points, then charted them chronologically through the book. Turns out one of the story lines was MISSING A POINT! Now I finally know what to do with Chapter 8. But worst of all, I had another story line that didn't hit PINCH 2 until after the other three were RESOLVED! So any reader who didn't care about that particular story line would be feeling done with the book when there's still two chapters to go.

My solution? Integrate that story line so it isn't dangling out, tacked on the end. Stack up the plot points instead to make the ending really rock.

So now I have a plan for Draft Five. But in the interest of not burning my burrito (see Leisha's post), I'm going to take a month off for summer vacation.

Happy writing, everyone!


  1. Yes, that IS a happy day and congratulations in the biggest way! You've shown why writing isn't for the weak of heart, and why continuing to learn and look for answers is worth it. Thanks for passing on the info! I'm printing it out the seven points right now and checking out my new story with it.

  2. That is so awesome! It makes me want to start my story all over and figure it out nice and pretty. I love a good plan.

  3. I don't think there's one best way to look at story structure, but each time I look through a new lens I discover new ways to make my story better.

  4. I need a month off too. Maybe August.

    But I know what you mean about finally understanding what is wrong!! It's so relieving to know where to go next. It's when you're stuck with no compass at all, that things can feel grim.

    Good for you!!

  5. Sue, I wish I felt like I needed a month off. This morning it is driving me crazy knowing what I want to fix in the next draft but not sitting right down to do it.

    I know if I wait, I'll find even more things I can improve. And besides, my kids need some real summer vacation. Off to the beach!

  6. Oh happy day indeed! First congrats on finishing your fourth draft and even bigger congrats on knowing what to work on for draft five. That is huge. And not burning your burrito is good, too. Enjoy summer vacation and then dive into the next draft all fresh and unburnt. :)

  7. Sorry about the removed post. I typed in Susan's name when addressing you, Rebecca, so I wanted to fix it.
    I think it is great that your husband helped you work through your doubt and that you found a way to resolve issues in your manuscript.
    I think this is a terrific post with so much valuable information. Thanks for posting it.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I hope you're all watching the lecture - it's great fun to see Dan use this seven-point system to deconstruct Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Matrix.

  9. I love that the seven point system comes from roll playing games, and that Dan uses it to deconstruct movie plots, and write books. While these are all very different media with different limitations and styles, the storytelling aspect is the same in each.


What be on yer mind?