Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What to do with Your Story Idea: Developing a Structure (Lauricia, Writing Life)

A few months ago I began a series addressing the question that I receive the most: What do I do with my story idea. In the first installments of this multi-part answer, I talked about writing down everything you know about the idea and beginning a social media presence. Today, I’m going to discuss how to proceed with the writing.

To be clear, there is never a time when you should stop writing. The ideal is to work on your story and your marketing in tandem, so that they balance each other. This will help you fend off the marketing burnout that all of us experience at one point or another.

If you are new to this series, or would like a recap of the full answer, here are the steps in brief:

1. Write down everything you know about the story idea. Keep writing until you can’t think of anything to add. (Read entire post here.)

2. When you’re not writing, work on your social media platform.  Develop your on-line presence authentically, in a way that is genuine. (Read entire post here.)

3. Go back to your idea. Organize everything you wrote in step one into something with structure and shape. Turn that collection of ideas into a plan and begin your first draft.

4. Start a website. A blog is good because it gives readers a taste of your writing, but if you feel that you can’t commit to a blog, then you need to have a website at the very least.

5. Edit your first draft. Complete this step as often as necessary.

6. Start an e-mail list.

7. Enlist alpha readers who will give you story feedback.

8. Once your book is as polished as you can get it, enlist someone else to edit it.

9. Decide how you want to publish (indie or traditional) and study the process. Learning the necessary details will save you a lot of time and, potentially, a lot of money in the long run.

10. Start the next story!

Presuming you’ve done step one and are working on step two, it’s time to return to your original idea and begin to give it some structure. The most common structure, and a great place to start, is the Three Act Structure. The name comes from Aristotle’s Poetics, in which he discusses how every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Fast forward a few thousand years and incorporate the advent and growth of the movie industry, and you have a story structure that is built around Act I: the introduction and development phase; Act II: the conflict and struggle phase; and Act II: the achievement and resolution phase.

If you are anything like me, at this point you’re thinking you don’t want your writing to be formulaic. You’re concerned that your writing won’t stand out, or that it will lack a spark of life if you follow a common method. I wrestled with this for years until I thought about it from the perspective of architecture. If you’ve ever seen a house being built, you know that nothing can be accomplished until the foundation is laid and the frame is in place. So, too, with writing. Rather than being a formula, the Three Act Structure is the framework. What you build around it is up to you, and can be as original and inventive as you like.

I had originally planned to go into a discussion about the Three Act Structure here, but I’m already coming to the end of my word count, and there are innumerable resources out there to help with this, so I’ll list some of my favorites for you to explore:


Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

The One Year Adventure Novel by Daniel Schwabauer. (Specifically for teens) I cannot recommend this resource highly enough. It is a one-year writing curriculum that ends with a chance of publication, so if you are a teen who desires to write speculative fiction, there is no better option to pursue.

Of course, there are many more good resources out there, and I’m always looking to improve my craft, so are there any that you recommend? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


  1. Thanks for the information. I've never heard of the The One Year Adventure Novel, but I love the cover for it. I checked out Donald Maass's book but still need to read it before it's due back!

    1. I teach the OYAN whenever I have the opportunity. It’s perfect for teen writers, but I always benefit from going through it with them. I also found Maass’s book especially helpful with the workbook.

  2. Lots of good choices here--thanks!


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