Nikki Lee Taylor
Don't lose the plot. There's a simple way to write your book using proven story structures...
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Sitting down to plot out your story can feel like a daunting task, so it might be a relief to know that no matter how far-out or wild your idea is, it will fit into a tried and true plot structure - and the rest is just filling in the blanks.
Ever heard of Christopher Booker (and how about that name for a coincidence - Booker)?
If you answered no, you are in for a treat.
Christopher Booker worked on his book The Seven Basic Plots for 34 years - that in itself should make you feel better - and he is known globally as a guru when it comes to story structure.
He says, and most of the world tends to agree, there are seven basic plot structures when it comes to storytelling.
Overcoming the monster
Jaws, Jurassic Park, IT
Voyage and Return
Gulliver's Travels, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz
Rags to Riches
Cinderella, Great Expectations, Tangled
The Quest (Heroes Journey)
Treasure Island, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games
Bridgette Jones's Diary, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
Romeo and Juliet, The Fault in Our Stars, Did You Ever Have a Family
Rebirth / Redemption
A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, White Fang
But, while Booker no doubt knew his stuff, I think we also need to add:
Maturation (coming of age)
Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Twilight
Oliver Twist, The Outsiders, Wonder
Gone Girl, The Maltese Falcon, Murder on the Orient Express
Now, if you want to get technical - each plot structure has its own narrative arc (the rise and fall of the story structure eg start - middle - climax - end) that readers expect a story to follow.
But having said that, there is a universal narrative arc that works for most stories and it goes like this:
Exposition - The current situation your main character is in
Inciting incident - an event that changes everything (this should occur within the first 15% of your story based on word count)
Pot Point One - Main character must set about achieving a goal, solving a mystery, etc. (should occur at around 25% of your story)
Pinch Point One - The first hurdle or obstacle
Midpoint - Your main character has taken everything in and starts to proactively take control of their destiny (should occur at around 50% of your story)
Pinch Point Two - Next lot of hurdles (need to be escalated from first pinch point)
Plot Point Two - Nothing is working out. Your main character is facing too many hurdles. They are at a loss. (should occur at around 75% of your story)
Climax - Your character is faced with the ultimate hurdle and their choice inevitably leads to the peak of tension in the story
Reversal - As result your character is changed in some way
Resolution - The story ends with a satisfying conclusion.
So, using Twilight (I know, I know...) as an example, let me show you what it all looks like:
Exposition: Bella is moving to Forks.
Inciting Incident: Edward saves Bella from being killed by the sliding van.
Plot Point One: Bella decides to pursue Edward and find out the truth .
Pinch Point One: Edward acts as though he wants nothing to do with her.
Midpoint - Bella follows up on the Cold Ones theory and finds out enough that Edward confesses he is a vampire.
Pinch Point Two: Bella is faced with the many dangers of being around vampires.
Plot Point Two - Bella's newfound happiness with Edward is under threat from other vampires and she has to leave the life she loves - there's nothing she can do Climax - Bella faces the evil vampire and is inevitably bitten and Edward is faced with a decision he doesn't want to make - lose her or turn her.
Reversal - Bella is no longer the naive girl who moved to Forks.
Resolution - Bella and Edward can return to Forks and Bella's family is safe none the wiser for what happened.
While I can't go into every individual narrative arc for all 10 plot suggestions in this post, it is worth doing some follow up research to learn more about arc structures that work best for your story and what readers will expect while on your journey.