A big ARHtistic License thank you to C.S. Lakin for this article about story structure. Lakin is a prolific writer and professional editor and critiquer. She writes about the craft of writing on her website, Live Write Thrive, where this article originated.
Now that we’ve spent weeks looking at most of the key scenes you need in your novel and that will form the foundation for your entire story, we’re ready to look at the “10” in my 10-20-30 Scene Builder concept. These are the first ten scenes you will do well to lock in first.
Of course, if you haven’t taken the time to develop a strong concept with a kicker, the protagonist and his goal, the conflict with high stakes, and the themes with heart, you should hold off until you do so.
You can take my free online video course to understand fully what those four essential corner pillars of novel structure are. Just enroll at cslakin.teachable.com and then click on the free course. I want you to nail this! Also think about studying my 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction and use the workbook to flesh this all out. Then you’ll be ready to dive into laying out all these scenes.
Last week I gave the example of filling a jar with rocks. These first ten scenes are your rocks. You put them in first, then you add the pebbles (the next twenty scenes) to fill in the spaces. From there you’ll move into sand, then water—all those other scenes that will round out your story within the strong framework you’ve fashioned.
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So, here are the ten scenes you’ll want to get working on:
#1 – Setup. Introduce protagonist in her world. Establish her core need. Set the stage, begin building the world, bring key characters on stage.
#2 – Turning Point #1 (10%): inciting incident.
#3 – Pinch Point #1 (33% roughly): Give a glimpse of the opposition’s power, need, and goal as well as the stakes.
#4 – Twist #1: Something new happens: a new ally, a friend becomes a foe. New info reveals a serious complication to reaching the goal. Protagonist must adjust to change with this setback.
#5 – The midpoint (50%): No turning back. Important event that propels the story forward and solidifies the protagonist’s determination to reach her goal. “I’ll never go hungry again!”
#6 – Pinch Point #2 (62% roughly): The opposition comes full force. Time to buckle down and fight through it.
#7 – Twist 2: An unexpected surprise giving (false?) hope. The goal now looks within reach. A mentor gives encouragement, a secret weapon, an important clue.
#8 – Turning Point #4 (75%): Major setback. All is lost and hopeless. Time for final push.
#9 – Turning Point #5 (76-99%): The climax in which the goal is either reached or not; the two MDQs are answered. (Be sure to read my posts on MDQs if you haven’t nailed that concept).
#10 – The aftermath (90-99%): The wrap-up at the end. Denoument, resolution, tie it all in a pretty knot.
Twists and Turns
I haven’t gone into twists yet, and we’ll talk about them further. Twists make good stories terrific. They are surprises, reversals. Just when you think . . . then the unexpected comes out of nowhere (or maybe it’s expected, but here it comes anyway).
You can have lots of variations on your twists. The movie Outbreak comes to my mind with twist #2. Dustin Hoffman’s character finally finds the monkey carrying the disease. He flies to the family’s home and the monkey is caught. They now have great hope to get a cure made before everyone in the quarantined town (and possibly the world) dies.
BUT he learns upon returning that the president has authorized full cleansing, and the bomb is en route to annihilate the town. Hope is raised but then so are the stakes, and that barrels the story toward turning point #4—that major setback.
There’s nothing more fun than raising someone’s hopes to the heights, then dashing them. No, I’m not mental. This is good storytelling! Raise your character’s hopes at a moment when he really needs hope. Then smash it into pieces and send him reeling. That’s the build to the climax.
Yay! More Charts!
And since I love creating charts and handouts, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve put these first ten scenes in a list in two formats for you: An Excel chart(which will come in handy when you go on to paste your scene summaries into the final thirty-scene chart) and a PDF, for those of you who can’t access Excel (or don’t want to use it).
Print out your chart (maybe multiple copies so you can play with ideas) and get working on your ten scenes.
I’ll talk more next week about these twists. And then we’ll move on to the next twenty scenes: the pebbles that go into the spaces in the jar between your ten rocks! There are countless ways to approach the next ten scenes, and over the next weeks we’ll play with some ideas.
Share some thoughts in the comments. Do you have all these ten scenes figured out? What are some great twists you can think of from a movie or book?
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