Before you hop into your writing, it’s important to know what Narrative Structure is in literature. This is the basis for how your story gets from Point A to Point B. Knowing narrative structure can help make sure every scene in your narrative serves it’s purpose.
What is narrative structure?
I’m glad you asked! Narrative structure is the framework for how a story is presented. It is comprised of three acts, with each act furthering the story until the story has it’s resolution.
Act One serves as the introduction of your story. By the end of Act One, the reader should know:
1. Who the protagonist is
2. What the conflict is — including the stakes
3. Where the setting is
Act One should have a good hook. I often end Act One with the inciting incident, though some writers start right off with it. What’s important is hooking the reader here, revealing the protagonist, and making the stakes known. The inciting incident is what propels the conflict of the story forward. Because of the inciting incident, the rest of the scenes occur.
In A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES by Sarah J Maas, when Feyre shoots the wolf, the world is set into motion. If Fayre didn’t shoot the wolf, she would have never been captured by Tamlin. (Do you have more examples of good inciting incidents? Leave them in the comments!)
Act Two is where the bulk of the story happens. For some writers, this is the hardest part. This is where we’ll see the story develop, including the characters, conflict, and setting. As writers we write words (duh), but what’s important here is making each of those words count. If you can look at a scene and say “this doesn’t tell me anything new about Suzy and doesn’t further the plot” then scrap it. It’s not needed. Words are precious, so make good use of them.
The end of Act Two should be the climax. The climax of the story is when the stakes are at their highest and the characters have hit nearly the end of their arc. This is the moment Act One and Act Two have been leading up to. In THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan, I saw the climax as when Percy and his friends reach Hades.
Act Three is the wrap up of your story. This is where the reader will see the resolution to the conflict and climax presented in Act One and Act Two. By the end, our questions should be answered and things should be resolved. This is the ending of the book, and as such the overarching plot should come to a close (even if you’re planning a sequel).
Okay, I understand, so now what?
Apply it to your writing. Look at your story and ask if each scene fits within the act and if it’s furthering the story. Do you have an unneeded scene in the middle of Act Three? Are there moments really developing your characters in Act Two? Does your story have a strong inciting incident and climax?
There are three Acts when it comes to stories. This can be applied to both short stories and novel-length stories. What’s important to know is what comes in each act.
– Act One: Protagonist, Conflict (including stakes), setting, inciting incident
– Act Two: Character development, character arc, climax
– Act Three: Resolution
Every WTFYC lesson will include a small challenge to see what we’ve learned.
While a lot of us aren’t plotters, this prompt is to help us understand narrative structure. In the comments, please show us an outline of your story (or another novel). Act one must include protagonist, conflict, setting, and inciting incident. Act two must include character arc and climax. Act three must include resolution. It’s alright if I don’t understand it, as long as you do, that’s what counts, since this is meant to be to YOUR benefit (I’m not the one writing your story!).
– Example, using one of my drafts (AWAKENED):
– Protagonist: Beth
– Conflict: Parents were murdered, Atoners are after her
– Setting: Fallen Hills, Ohio
– Inciting Incident: Exploring the archives
– Character Arc: Beth learns her powers, Beth bonds with Clark
– Climax: Beth is kidnapped by Alexander and learns Andrea is working with the Atoners
– Resolution: Beth battles Alexander and Andrea, finally gaining all of her powers. She fights and wins, saving her town, herself, and Clark.
Thank you for participating in this week’s WTFYC! Feel free to discuss on social media using #WTFYCChat