So, this is my first post on writing craft and I thought I would go for the jugular: structure.
A lot of the problems that can occur when writing a story come from structure. This is why it is essential to know the fundamental elements that go into a story. The fundamental elements are pretty much non-negotiable, especially for beginners. Yes, the rules can be broken. But we must first understand the rules in order to understand why we are breaking them, and what purpose that would serve the story.
I have created an outline, using the Hunger Games as an example, to demonstrate these fundamental elements in action. I have used the Four Part Story Structure outline which is very common in writing craft. In plays (and films) we usually have three acts, but in fiction there are now commonly four acts. This is because the ‘set up’ or ‘status quo’ part is included in larger effect. However, in YA (Young Adult) fiction the set-up is usually a lot less pages than other genres as usually we get straight into the action with the Inciting Incident.
I have used this idea as set out by Steve Windsor in his book Nine Day Novel – Outlining. I then added the idea of what James Scott Bell calls a ‘doorway of no return’ in his book Write Your Novel from the Middle as I liked this idea of forcing the characters through a doorway which would then be shut on them, forcing them forward to deal with the problem, with no way back to the ‘status quo’. I also added the ‘mirror moment’ he demonstrates at the middle of the novel. And voila – you have an outline.
The Hunger Games, in my opinion, has quite a simple-but-effective story-line, therefore making it easier to dissect. So, a warning to anyone who has not read the Hunger Games book, or seen the film: there will be spoilers! But if you haven’t seen, or read, it by now: are you living under a rock? (Jokes.)
Some terminology first.
Inciting Incident – the moment the protagonist’s (main character – our hero) life changes. This moment is when the ball is set in motion and everything the protagonist once knew changes.
As an example, in romance this would be when the girl meets the guy (or vice versa).
As a generic example, take Disney’s Mulan. The inciting incident here is when her father is called upon to go to war. Now, you might think, isn’t it when she decides to take his place in the army? Short answer: no. The inciting incident brings about the choice. The choice itself is the first ‘doorway of no return’. Now that I’m getting to thinking about this, I might do another example using Mulan too…
Anyways, the point is, the inciting incident brings about change. The protagonist then has a choice as to whether they take up the challenge or not. This choice comes after the inciting incident.
- Set Up/Status Quo
- – Opening scenes – Prim is worried about the reaping and that she’ll be chosen and Katniss is comforting her.
- – Killer hook – the reaping – we now want to know what it is and once we do we want to know who will be chosen.
- – Inciting Incident – Prim’s name is called.
- – First doorway – choice to accept the challenge – no going back – Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister: she is now a tribute, she cannot escape that (conscious decision to volunteer)
- – Hero’s world changes – she is now leaving for the Hunger Games
- – Run for your life – trying to survive in the games
- – Figure out what you’re up against – figuring out who the competition is, who to avoid, who she can ally with, and how best to survive.
- – Turn and fight back – when she and Rue have joined forces and decide to ruin the competition’s food supply
- – Lose – Rue is killed
- – Hero’s world changes again (Black moment – they lost and now they feel like they’ll never get back up again) – she can’t process that Rue died.
- – Hero accepts reality (mirror moment – reflects on themselves, what has changed, what needs to change, and what they need to do) – she realises (once it is announced that two people from the same district can win together) that she has to find Peeta – realises that what is important is getting out of the games alive not wallowing in grief
- – Second doorway – the setback that makes the resolution possible – Katniss and Peeta have made it and are the last ones left, but are then told that the new rule has been revoked and now one must die so there can be a winner.
- – Final battle scene – Big Boss Battle – this is the final fight, she defies them and chooses to threaten that both will win or both will die – use of the poisonous berries.
- – New equilibrium – they are out of the games and crowned victors, but she is now viewed as a threat to the system by President Snow and has to now deal with a life where she will constantly be watched as both a celebrity and a threat.
So that’s my take on the Four Part Story Structure. Remember, it’s important to know and understand the rules before we break them. But it is always better to follow them as this kind of structure is what readers are used to, so it is what they will expect.
If you want to take a look at the books I referred to, both are available on Amazon. Naturally, they will both explain their thoughts far better than I, and both go more in depth too.
Steve Windsor, Nine Day Novel – Outlining
James Scott Bell, Write Your Novel from the Middle