My Story Structure Vs. Traditional Structure

traditional structure

You’re probably used to images like this from English or Creative Writing classes.  It’s the rough outline of the traditional story structure.  From left to right the first line is the rising action, the first dip is the crisis, the highest point is the climax, and the second dip is the resolution/conclusion.  It’s a simple and effective visual tool… but it’s not what I use when I write.

I use a chart of my own design as my basic guiding image when outlining my stories:

my structure

Crazy right?  I admit it’s nowhere near as simple, but for the way I write I find it more effective than the traditional structure.  I’ll explain it.

First you need to know that the black portion is the story (I’ll get to the gray portion in a moment).  The small flat tab at the beginning of the spiral is the inciting incident.  The spiral itself is the main body of the story, an image I personally find more compelling than the rising action line.  To me it says that when things are set on their track they well inevitably spiral to their endpoint, with each circle becoming tighter and faster and more exciting, like the path of a coin tossed in one of those giant amusement funnels.

The circle where the two sections meet is the conclusion/resolution.  It is the end of your story.  So what is the gray mirror image?  Simply put, it is the counter-story.  You do not bother to write the counter-story most of the time, it’s just a device to help see where your story belongs in the grand scheme of things.  The circle at the center, the peaceful ending, is a sign of moderation when compared to the extremist wideness at the beginnings of the spiral.

If the moral of your story is bravery, if bravery is what it takes to get back to the moderate center, then the moral of the counter-story is caution.  If your story is about someone trying to escape normalcy by embracing their individuality, then the counter-story features a villain or anti-hero who is a dangerous antisocial loner who needs to learn to feel compassion for their fellow humans.  You see how it works?

I’m not trying to replace the traditional model so much as just present my own for people to consider.  I hope you give it a thought if you write anything in the future!

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