There are at least five different story structure forms which you can use to format your novel: the basic Freytag’s Pyramid, a three act structure, a four act structure, a “W” structure (similar, but not the same as the four act structure, at least not as defined by Theresa Stevens and Alicia Rasley on one of my favorite blogs, Edittorent), and Michael Hauge’s six-part structure. So how do you know which one to use for your story?
Well, Freytag’s is the ultimate in basic, simple story structure, so you would probably only use that one if you were writing a simple short story. The three act structure is pretty basic as well, but, as defined by the ladies of Edittorent, it can get pretty interesting – thinking about the middle of the story as a “Point of No Return” rather than simply as a crisis, and including a climax as well as a black moment (the climax dealing with the internal conflict, the black moment dealing with the external). So that three-act structure can do it for a lot of novels. It really covers everything.
The four-act structure, again as defined at Edittorent includes an occasion for the protagonist to lose everything and have to start all over again, so that one’s pretty easy to set aside if you don’t have an element along those lines. But the four-part or “W” structure allows for breaking up the story into four parts without that. I happen to love graphing out a story line – it allows me to see all those lovely wiggles which are needed to make a story really interesting. With a graph, I can see if I have enough of those.
And then there is Michael Hauge’s structure which is so rich in detail allowing for nearly two beginnings – you have the set-up, an opportunity, then the new situation and a change of plans. Likewise, the ending is drawn out with the major set-back followed by a climax. It really allows for a writer to think more thoroughly about all of the components in their story, all of the turning points, big and small.
So, what is a writer to do? How do we chose which structure is right for our story? Easy! Try them all. Plot out your story moving from the most simple structure (Freytag’s) through to the most complicated (Hauge’s). See where your story fits. Do you have all of the components necessary to complete Hauge’s structure? No? Then go with a simpler one. Is the simple one too easy not allowing for as much conflict and all of the twists and turns your protagonist must go through, try graphing it with a “W” structure and see how that fits. The key is in the trial and error, and the best part is that as you work through all of these structures, you’ll get to know your plot and find any problems there might be (holes, not enough conflict, too many needless complications, whatever!). And if you do this before you start writing, you may very well save yourself some time and lots of rewrites.
If you need more detailed information on any of these forms of story structure, of course, it can be found in my book, Chapter One.