Story Structure… by Nancy Brophy

Why is the inciting incident of any story the easiest to write and the hardest part to perfect? I spend a lot of time fantasizing about how a new story should begin. As the queen of 50-100 pages, I know if I want to continue the story long before the first turning point. Some characters/situations discourage me and that version is shelved. Sometimes it get woven into a later story.

I have author friends who get fan letters. I don’t, but I do get advice. Usually it involves creating a story for a minor character that I never can make happen.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list of what every story intro needs. Every story requires a good foundation. Whether you are a pantzer or a plotter, there are certain story requirements that must be introduced in the first fifty (given or take) pages.

If you think of more, let me know.

The hook – the first paragraph sets up a story question and makes the reader keep going.

Engaging characters – according to Michael Hague characters must have at least 2 of the 5 charactistics – 1) likeable, 2) good at what they do, 3) victim of undeserved misfortune, 4) funny or 5) in jeopardy.

Internal and external goals – The beginning of an external arc that carries the story and internal arc that shows the emotion. If the goal doesn’t matter neither does the story, so not meeting the goal must carry consequences.

The ticking time bomb – if it can be done in 2 months rather than today – not enough urgency and readers quit reading

Hero/heroine must have conflict between them. What is keeping them apart?  If that answer is nothing then where are you going after Chapter Two? Hero/heroine must have courage to meet the challenge and fortitude to see if through to the end.

Conflict – must be resolved by characters – not external coincidence. To sustain conflict, the author either tightens the screws or heaps on additional problems (Hear the writer’s macabre laughter in background)

Must have a call to adventure. Must have a response to the call. (90% it is a refusal)

Answer the following questions

Who – characters

What – goals

Why – motivation

Why not – conflict

Evoke emotion through details

Show – don’t tell

Visceral reactions

5 senses

No talking heads

Setting –

I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted. All I wanted to do when I started was write a good story. So the old quote is true. Writing is easy all you have to do is sit down at a desk and open a vein.

I’m sure that many of you will have other things to add to this list. Please makes comments so I can edit.


Posted on November 17, 2012, in General and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Nice list. My personal pet peeve is when there’s not a true conflict between the hero and the heroine. In some books I get the sense that they develop an intense (and somewhat random) dislike for each other, for example, because otherwise there’d be nothing to move the plot forward. So yeah, there needs to be conflict, but it should make sense and be a meaningful part of the story. Sorry…will jump off the soapbox now…


  2. I like your list. The only one I would add is after the refusal of the call, at some point the character has to actually accept the call to adventure in order to move forward in the story. Also, some writers get this part confused if they aren’t writing an “adventure” story. It could also be the call to make a major life change. In romance, that call is usually a call to overcome a fear or to change a past behavior pattern or to forgive someone. Much of the book is spent dealing with that refusal, but at some point the character(s) have to accept that change or we would never get to the HEA.


  3. Thanks for the checklist!


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