Tag Archives | Tips for story structure

Fifteen tips to strengthen your story structure.

I spent hours breaking down a movie (How To Train Your Dragon) into acts. Who cares? I already knew about the three acts. I’d read Save the Cat, Story; and Plot and Structure is my writing bible.

Fair questions and thoughts.

Most tidbits I knew but I gained a deeper understanding of them. As in exactly how I might use them in my own writing. Okay, here goes:

Premise or logline:

1. Importance of placing a personality the least fit for the job into the role of main character.  (Skinny, accident-prone Viking anyone?)

Act I

2. Opening with telling is not wrong. It just has to be excellent, excellent telling. (Hiccup’s narration at the start of the movie, or opening to HP)

3. Thematic statement should be made very clear as in the character or a secondary character actually asking the question. This is the heart of your story. It’s a must.

4. Outer goal, inner goal, stakes must all be related.

5. All the main character’s flaws/problems should be revealed. And there should more than one or two; according to Blake more like six!

6. After the inciting incident, the main character should be faced with a decision. And it shouldn’t be an easy choice. In fact, it should go against what the character believes to be true. (Hiccup deciding not to kill the dragon.)

7. The disaster or turning point before Act II should be pronounced. It should pop out to the reader.

Act II

8. The start of Act II and the B Story (subplot) is the love story that brings out the internal story. (Hiccup and Toothless) Does not have to be a romance.

9. Also at the start of Act II is the whole concept of the ‘promise of the premise’: the potential scenes that pop into your head when you read the title or logline should happen here. The fun stuff. No potential scenes? Uh-oh.

10. At the midpoint, I knew there should be a big twist, but I didn’t realize that there could also be a false win – where it appears the main character is succeeding but she/he and the reader knows better because secrets are still hidden.

11. The dark moment needs to be just as pronounced as the turning point at the end of Act I.


12. In Act III, the relationships developed, the skills learned, and the emotional truths realized should all play a role in the climax. (Just let that sink in. I mean really sink in.)

13. I need to make sure that relationships, skills, and emotional truths all happen in Act II. Yikes.

14. After the dark moment, often times, it’s a secondary character that leads the main character to seeing what he/she needs to do.

15. At the end of the story, the world must be changed for the biggest impact. If not, the impact is decreased.


Wow. So, just by breaking down a movie I saw elements to add to the structure of my current story.

The question that begs to be asked – can a story find success with weak structure? After reading a lot of books, the answer is obvious. Come back on Wednesday to see if you agree or disagree with me!

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