Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation

According to Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, there are Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. I named them in the post, The Writing Book that Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo. Today I’m focusing on the fourth competency: Story Structure.


S is for Story Structure

Brooks says, “it doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.”

Brooks defines story structure as “what comes first, what comes next, and so forth…and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published.”

This doesn’t mean you’re artistically boxed-in by the structure. Brooks uses the analogy of constructing a building to explain the concept of story structure. You must have a solid foundation (story structure) upon which you place your artfully designed building (your unique story).

solid foundation building Brooks says, “Story structure is the sequence of scenes that results in a story well told. Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine, and a writing voice that brings it all to life with personality and energy.”

In his book, Brooks names the four integral parts of story structure. I hinted at this four-part story structure in the post Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need, when I discussed the four stages of the hero.

Four-Part Story Structure:

Part 1: Setup. The purpose of Part 1 is to set up the story. We learn about the hero; the world he lives in, his back story, and what he wants. At the end of Part 1 an obstacle to what the hero wants surfaces and the hero must go on a quest to overcome it.
Hero role: orphan.

• Part 2: Response. The purpose of Part 2 is to show the hero’s response to the obstacle that surfaced at the end of Part 1. He’s not heroic yet. He’s hesitant, fearful, and fumbles his way through a myriad of options, unsure how, even unwilling, to confront the antagonistic force.
Hero role: wanderer.

• Part 3: Attack. The purpose of Part 3 is to show the hero beginning to figure it out. He draws on what he learned in the wanderer phase and begins to apply it. He’s no longer reactive. He’s heroic and attacks the antagonistic force head on. Only the antagonistic force has become stronger and the hero must revise his plans.
Hero role: warrior.

• Part 4: Resolution. The purpose of Part 4 is to show the hero call upon all the knowledge, skills, and courage gained over the course of the story and use it to defeat the antagonistic force. He may even die in the process.
Hero role: martyr.

To learn more about story structure, read the post, Introducing the Four Parts of Story on Larry Brooks’ website, Storyfix.


23 thoughts on “Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation”

    1. He used several analogies in his book including the creation of humans. For ex: we all have 2 eyes, 2 ears, etc., etc., but of the 7 billion people on the planet you’d be hard pressed to find two that look exactly the same. Even identical twins have subtle differences.

  1. It’s so funny to read this today! I totally know this about story structure and yet…. I’ve been struggling with the composition of an offbeat piece and not understanding why it doesn’t hang right. This post gave me the clue I was forgetting. Thanks!

  2. I’m with you, I’ve found that book so helpful, and the story structure part especially. It makes so much sense and now I tend to spot/look out for the structure (or lack thereof) in books I read and films I watch.

    I read a quote somewhere saying that creativity needs some constraints, to constrain your creativity within a set of rules is by no means stifling it. It gives you (and the story) focus and direction. Couldn’t be more true than in this case!

    I have to admit though, I did not like Brooks’s writing style, so that made the book a tedious read, but it’s packed with great advice.

    1. I look for the structure in books and movies now too! I guess his style didn’t bother me because I don’t remember it being tedious…maybe because I had so many aha moments reading it. 🙂 As much as I admire Joseph Campbell, I’m having a hard time getting through The Hero with a 1000 Faces (some parts are tedious, some fascinating).

      1. I haven’t read that one – is it on character building? (Something I need to work on). I recently heard of two books, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, and The Positive Trait Thesaurus (gold star if you can guess what they’re about), they’ve had some amazing reviews so I’m going to check them out. Have you heard of them?

        1. It’s about the stages of the hero’s journey and how the pattern is repeated in stories throughout history. I would guess they are about traits to give the hero or villain. I haven’t heard of them, but now I want to check them out. 🙂

  3. This is so interesting! I haven’t seen story structure laid out this way before. Thanks for the link to Storyfix. I’ve read a lot of books that skimp on Part 1, and throw the hero into the middle of things before we really find out what that person’s all about. This makes for a lousy emotional connection to the character! (Of course, then there’s the other books where Part 1 is really loooong…) 😉

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