Using Story Structure for Stronger Novels

By Lesley Hobbs

I am at first-draft stage of my debut novel and have recently been feeling dissatisfied as to the course of my protagonist’s journey. I have lost the proverbial plot so to speak! I was therefore hoping that Sherryl Clark’s two-hour Masterclass on “Using story structure for stronger novels” would get my thinking and writing back on track. I wasn’t disappointed.

Sherryl’s key message was that a story is about movement. The writer’s job is to get from point A to point B (through all the various highs, lows, pitfalls, fortune reversals of the protagonist(s) etc.) whilst keeping the reader interested/engaged/committed/hooked whatever the outcome/ending. Her point was that without structure, the writer could be left with a lot of words which don’t have flow or direction, i.e. the story may end up/become either rambling or episodic.

Sherryl provided us with a very comprehensive set of slides in which she referenced and highlighted some well-known story structure models including the “Hero’s Journey” and variations on “The Three-Act Structure”. She suggested that we have on hand a copy of the structure diagram which we felt worked best for us. She also listed the textbooks on structure which she used in her classes and/or for her own writing. In addition to reading books on structure, she recommended that we watch films and analyse them.

The main thing she advised us do though was get back to writing the words on the page. As someone who is still at first-draft stage, I appreciated her point that if we felt structure was holding us back then we should save it for our second draft, and just make sure the key points of structure are in the final version!