INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)

The Story Structure Countdown: How Different ‘Experts’ Say You Should Structure a Story

The Story Structure Countdown

Lots of people have come up with lots of ways to map, chart, categorize, name and formulate story patterns and structures. (also see my Comparative Narrative Story Structure Chart for a graphic side-by-side exploration) – and if you like this, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of writer’s resources in Miller’s Compendium of Timeless Tools for the Modern Writer (reference e-book available now on Amazon).

Some of these structures are obviously and/or explicitly derived from others and some feature similar story beats with different names, but I find they all have something to offer – at least conceptually.

I’ve never personally been able to directly apply any one of these to any of my own writing projects or to any clients’ work. I’ve found that all but the most formulaic writing projects have their own unique structure which has to be discovered during the creative process.

[Contact Greg about helping you structure your own writing project. Call 323-717-4731 or e-mail Greg to discuss your particulars.]

There’s no magic formula that works for every project every time. You can always find examples of successful projects that don’t fit a given formula or find ways successful projects do fit a particular structure if you want to. Also, most of the people who name and formulated these concepts are not primarily writers per se and in most cases their structures are based on post-facto analysis of successful work rather than being used to generate the original work itself. But, even (or especially) if you’re trying to satirize a form or break a mold, you should know what the mold is.

Naturally, any serious discussion of moldy story structure has to start with…

31 Narrateme Functions (Narrative Units) (from “Morphology of the Folk Tale” by Vladimir Propp)

  1. ABSENTATION: A member of a family leaves the security of the home environment. This may be the hero or some other member of the family that the hero will later need to rescue. This division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline. The hero may also be introduced here, often being shown as an ordinary person.
  2. INTERDICTION: An interdiction is addressed to the hero (‘don’t go there’, ‘don’t do this’). The hero is warned against some action (given an ‘interdiction’).
  3. VIOLATION of INTERDICTION. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale). This generally proves to be a bad move and the villain enters the story, although not necessarily confronting the hero. Perhaps they are just a lurking presence or perhaps they attack the family whilst the hero is away.
  4. RECONNAISSANCE: The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (either villain tries to find the children/jewels etc.; or intended victim questions the villain). The villain (often in disguise) makes an active attempt at seeking information, for example searching for something valuable or trying to actively capture someone. They may speak with a member of the family who innocently divulges information. They may also seek to meet the hero, perhaps knowing already the hero is special in some way.
  5. DELIVERY: The villain gains information about the victim. The villain’s seeking now pays off and he or she now acquires some form of information, often about the hero or victim. Other information can be gained, for example about a map or treasure location.
  6. TRICKERY: The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim’s belongings (trickery; villain disguised, tries to win confidence of victim). The villain now presses further, often using the information gained in seeking to deceive the hero or victim in some way, perhaps appearing in disguise. This may include capture of the victim, getting the hero to give the villain something or persuading them that the villain is actually a friend and thereby gaining collaboration.
  7. COMPLICITY: Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy. The trickery of the villain now works and the hero or victim naively acts in a way that helps the villain. This may range from providing the villain with something (perhaps a map or magical weapon) to actively working against good people (perhaps the villain has persuaded the hero that these other people are actually bad).
  8. VILLAINY or LACK: Villain causes harm/injury to family member (by abduction, theft of magical agent, spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone, casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc., commits murder, imprisons/detains someone, threatens forced marriage, provides nightly torments); Alternatively, a member of family lacks something or desires something (magical potion etc.). There are two options for this function, either or both of which may appear in the story. In the first option, the villain causes some kind of harm, for example carrying away a victim or the desired magical object (which must be then be retrieved). In the second option, a sense of lack is identified, for example in the hero’s family or within a community, whereby something is identified as lost or something becomes desirable for some reason, for example a magical object that will save people in some way.
  9. MEDIATION: Misfortune or lack is made known, (hero is dispatched, hears call for help etc./ alternative is that victimized hero is sent away, freed from imprisonment). The hero now discovers the act of villainy or lack, perhaps finding their family or community devastated or caught up in a state of anguish and woe.
  10. BEGINNING COUNTER-ACTION: Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action. The hero now decides to act in a way that will resolve the lack, for example finding a needed magical item, rescuing those who are captured or otherwise defeating the villain. This is a defining moment for the hero as this is the decision that sets the course of future actions and by which a previously ordinary person takes on the mantle of heroism.
  11. DEPARTURE: Hero leaves home.
  12. FIRST FUNCTION OF THE DONOR: Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc., preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor).
  13. HERO’S REACTION: Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles disputants, performs service, uses adversary’s powers against him).
  14. RECEIPT OF A MAGICAL AGENT: Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters).
  15. GUIDANCE: Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search.
  16. STRUGGLE: Hero and villain join in direct combat.
  17. BRANDING: Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf).
  18. VICTORY: Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished).
  19. LIQUIDATION: Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revived, captive freed).
  20. RETURN: Hero returns.
  21. PURSUIT: Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero).
  22. RESCUE: Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognisably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life).
  23. UNRECOGNIZED ARRIVAL: Hero unrecognized, arrives home or in another country.
  24. UNFOUNDED CLAIMS: False hero presents unfounded claims.
  25. DIFFICULT TASK: Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks).
  26. SOLUTION: Task is resolved.
  27. RECOGNITION: Hero is recognized (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her).
  28. EXPOSURE: False hero or villain is exposed.
  29. TRANSFIGURATION: Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc.).
  30. PUNISHMENT: Villain is punished.
  31. WEDDING: Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).

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22 Building Blocks from “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby

also see

Truby and his publisher insist you buy his book or take his class to get his secret formula, but it’s pretty similar to Campbell’s structure.

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19 Beats of the 6000-Word Pulp Master Plot (by Lester Dent)

I. First 1500 words

1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with. Include





2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3–Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.

4–Hero’s endeavors land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.

5–Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

II. Second 1500 words

6–Shovel more grief onto the hero.

7–Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:

8–Another physical conflict.

9–A surprising plot twist.

III. Third 1500 words

10–Shovel the grief onto the hero.

11–Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:

12–A physical conflict.

13–A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad.

IV. Fourth 1500 words

14–Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

15–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)

16–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.

17–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.

18–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)

19–The snapper, the punch line to end it.

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18 Stages of the Hero’s Journey (from “The Hero With 1000 Faces” by Joseph Campbell)


1. The Call to Adventure

2. Refusal of the Call

3. Acceptance of the Call

4. Supernatural Aid

5. Crossing of the First Threshold

6. Entering the Belly of the Whale


7. Road of Trials

8. The Meeting with the Goddess

9. Woman as Temptress

10. Atonement with the Father

11. Apotheosis

12. The Ultimate Boon


13. Refusal of the Return

14. Magic Flight

15. Rescue From Without

16. Crossing of the Return Threshold

17. Master of the Two Worlds

18. Freedom to Live

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15 Beats to Blake Snyder’s Screenplay Beat Sheet

  1. The Opening Image (page 1) – Every film should open with a powerhouse opening scene to hook the audience, stop them eating popcorn for a while and settle them in their seats. For action movies, this is usually a set piece. It sets the tone, genre and main characters up of the film. It depicts a world of normality which will soon be disrupted as they begin their journey.
  2. Theme stated (page 5) – It tells the audience what the movie is about. It poses an argument or a conflict, usually by the main character. Life isn’t fair. What if I could be king for a day? I wish I was big. I want that girl (or guy). Some paradigms call this the inciting incident.
  3. Set-up (pages 1-10) – At this point we need to have an idea of the conflict set up that will guide us through the film. Many readers won’t proceed after page 10, if there is no clear protagonist, antagonist, theme and conflict set up.
  4. Catalyst (page 12) – This is the wake up call. Something that shakes our hero and compels him (or her) to take action.
  5. Debate (page 12-25) – A period of the reflection, self doubt and reluctance, when the hero doesn’t know what to do. If he (or she) doesn’t make a decision to act, they are forced to do so.
  6. Break in Two (page 25) – The hero is moved to act and is beyond the point of return. The old world is left behind and the journey begins, This is the first turning point and the end of Act 1.
  7. B Story (page 30) – The secondary story begins here. It may rotate around the central story spine and theme, but it’s often a love story.
  8. Fun and Games (page 30-55) – This is the bulk of Act 2, where the conflict and action is escalated. The hero experiences setbacks along the way.
  9. Midpoint (page 55) – A key point since this is where many screenplays sag. The stakes are raised, the hero is squeezed and it looks like the hero may not make it through. It divides the script into halves, The first half is the setup, while the second half is the resolution. The midpoint is the apex, the highest point of the aircraft. From here it gradually begins it’s descent to the destination airport.
  10. Bad Guys Close in (page 55-75) – The hero is in real trouble both internally and externally.
  11. All is Lost (page 75) – The hero is at his (or her) lowest point. It’s a period of metaphorical death where something must die to make space of rebirth.
  12. Dark Night of The Soul (page 75-85) – The pilot has lost control of the aircraft as it finally hits the bottom of the air pocket. The hero has lost all hope and is crushed. This sequence ends with the second turning point.
  13. Break into Three (page 85) – The hero has a new plan thanks to his buddy, confidante or love interest.
  14. Finale (page 85 – 110) – The hero emerges into the new world with new knowledge, a new attitude or something more tangible. More importantly, a transformation has occurred in the hero.
  15. Final Image (page 110) – A scene that juxtaposes the difference between new and old worlds. Often it’s the same scene flipped by 180 degrees.


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13 Beats of the Virgin’s Promise (from Kim Hudson)

  1. Dependent World
  2. Price of Conformity
  3. Opportunity to Shine
  4. Dress the Part
  5. Secret World
  6. No Longer Fits Her World
  7. Caught Shining
  8. Gives Up What Kept Her Stuck
  9. Kingdom in Chaos
  10. Wanders in the Wilderness
  11. Chooses Her Light
  12. The Re-ordering
  13. The Kingdom is Brighter

Kim Hudson says: The Virgin begins by conforming to the wishes of others and eventually learns to hear her inner voice and bring it to life. It is the journey to creative, spiritual and sexual awakening. Movies such as Bend It Like Beckham, Ever After, The Other Boleyn Girl, Brokeback Mountain, Billy Elliot, Tootsie, Better than Chocolate, Virgin Suicides and Wedding Crashers, to name just a few, all follow this archetypal journey. And when you think about it, none of these protagonists are selflessly saving the community because none of them are Heroes. They are self-fulfilling Virgins.

Next time you create a Virgin protagonist:

  • Set the story among the people she is emotionally attached to;
  • Show how the community needs to change;
  • Give her a secret world in which to grow and have her afraid her two worlds are going to collide as she moves back and forth between them;
  • Give her friends rather than allies;
  • Include the shadow side and masculine counterpart
  • Focus on the Virgin’s creative, sexual or spiritual awakening rather than a drive to find love or save someone.

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12 Stages of the Modified Hero’s Journey (from “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” by Christopher Vogler)

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
  7. Approaching the Inmost Cave
  8. The Crisis/Supreme Ordeal
  9. Seizing the Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Climax/Ressurection
  12. Return with the Elixir


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11 Elements of the Inner Movie Method (from Viki King)

  1. FIRST MINUTE: (FIRST PAGE!) – In the first minute, you will know everything you need to know about a movie: you will see a place, a time, and a mood. The size and scope of the story are revealed right away. In the first minute, we also see the POINT OF VIEW. E.g. in the Dirty Harry movies; “This is a dirty world and someone’s gotta clean it up” – If possible, start with a visual metaphor for your whole story. Also, put a `page-turner’ at the bottom of the page to get the reader hooked. We have to know who it’s about, too. Start with your main character if you can.
  2. Page 3 – Find a line of dialog that expresses the central theme (eg Jake Gittes in Chinatown “You have to be rich to get away with murder.”)
  3. Pages 3 to 10 – What’s it about? Whose story is it? What does he/she want? What’s stopping him from getting it? Do we like him/her? Or care what happens to him? Why? (show vulnerability, engender audience empathy) Do we care if he/she gets what he wants? Are we wondering what happens next? Make sure all the main characters are introduced in the first 10 pages.
  4. Page 15 – The `Inciting Incident’ – the event that triggers the story, and propels the hero into action.
  5. Page 25 or 30 – The First Turning Point. The story takes a sharp left turn. First Act ends. The Second Act begins…
  6. Page 45 – The `Act 2 metaphor’ (a symbolic scene or action that gives a clue to the story’s resolution).
  7. Page 60 – The `Point of no return’ – our Hero commits totally to his/her goal
  8. After this, a lighter moment; breathing space. Show the hero changing.
  9. Page 75 – A New Development – the hero’s just about to give up…
  10. Page 90 – The Second Turning Point, end of Act 2 – an event that “educates” the hero about how to achieve their goal. They have an epiphany. Act 3 begins…
  11. The Climax – 95-110. The hero can see their goal, but faces the final obstacle – the final moment of truth – all or nothing. They find their inner strength, and devotion to something bigger than themselves.
  12. The End – i.e. last 3-5 pages – The Resolution. Remember – the goal is to touch the audience deeply, and affect them profoundly.

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11 Elements of Plot Structure (from Script Frenzy)

  1. Setup
  2. Opportunity
  3. New Situation
  4. Change of Plans
  5. Progress
  6. Point of No Return
  7. Complications & Higher Stakes
  8. Major Setback
  9. Final Push
  10. Climax
  11. Aftermath


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The 10 Acts of the StoryAlity Syntagm (in a 90 page script) from J. T. Velikovsky

  1. (1 min.) p.1 – The Hero at home/work/base
  2. (1 min.) p. 2 – An Ally Complains
  3. (2 min.) p. 3-4 – An obstacle appears
  4. (3 min.) p. 5-7 – Pursuit / “The Chase”
  5. (5 min.) p. 8-12 – The Shape of Things to Come & the ‘Thematic Dialog Line’
  6. (8 min.) p. 13-20 – Trouble in Paradise
  7. (13 min.) p. 21-32 – Paradise Lost
  8. (21 min.) p. 33-53 – The Descent into Hell
  9. (21 min.) p. 54-73 – The Battle Royale
  10. (16 min.) p. 74-90 – Climax & the Villain Triumphant



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10 Stages of The Heroine’s Journey adapted by Chrisopher Vogler from Maureen Murdock


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9-Act Structure for Movie Plot Development (from David Siegel)

  1. Back story – Set up the plot elements in which the main character will become involved
  2. Start with an image – These are the opening descriptions that set the tone and illustrate the setting
  3. Something bad happens – The main antagonist sets the plot in motion
  4. Meet the hero (and the opposition) – This also includes objectives
  5. Commitment – The point-of-no-return after which, the character can no longer avoid being part of the story to the end
  6. Go for the wrong goal – The protagonist goes for the obvious objective
  7. The reversal – The protagonist finally puts together the clues and realizes there’s something else that needs to be done
  8. Go for the new goal – The hero now goes after the correct solution, which is very difficult and doesn’t go as planned
  9. Wrap it up – The effects of the resolution are played out

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8 Stages of the Harmon Story Embryo (from Dan Harmon)

  1. You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
  2. Need (but they want something)
  3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
  4. Search (adapt to it)
  5. Find (find what they wanted)
  6. Take (pay its price)
  7. Return (and go back to where they started)
  8. Change (now capable of change)


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8 Film Sequences (from Frank Daniel via Paul Joseph Gulino)

10-15 Minutes Each:

  1. Status Quo & Inciting Incident
  2. Predicament & Lock In
  3. First Obstacle & Raising the Stakes
  4. First Culmination/Midpoint
  5. Subplot & Rising Action
  6. Main Culmination/End of Act Two – Note: Since most midpoints and endings are paralleled, the PLOT POINT at the end of act two is usually at a polar opposite of those points. So if our hero wins at the midpoint and at the end of the film, then she usually has her lowest point here.
  7. New Tension & Twist
  8. Resolution


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7 Beats of The Story Pyramid (from Gustav Freytag)

  1. Exposition
  2. Inciting Incident
  3. Rising Action
  4. Climax
  5. Falling Action
  6. Resolution
  7. Denouement


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7 Essential Plot Points of the Screenplay Paradigm (from Syd Field)

  1. Inciting Incident: Also called the catalyst, this is the point in the story when the Protagonist encounters the problem that will change their life. This is when the detective is assigned the case, where Boy meets Girl, and where the Comic Hero gets fired from his cushy job, forcing him into comic circumstances.
  2. Plot Point 1: The last scene in Act One, Plot Point 1 is a surprising development that radically changes the Protagonist’s life, and forces him to confront the Opponent. In Star Wars, this is when Luke‘s family is killed by the Empire. He has no home to go back to, so he joins the Rebels in opposing Darth Vader.
  3. Pinch 1: A reminder scene at about 3/8 the way through the script (halfway through Act 2a) that brings up the central conflict of the drama, reminding us of the overall conflict. For example, in Star Wars, Pinch 1 is the Stormtroopers attacking the Millennium Falcon in Mos Eisley, reminding us the Empire is after the stolen plans to the Death Star R2-D2 is carrying and Luke and Ben Kenobi are trying to get to the Rebel Alliance (the main conflict).
  4. Midpoint: An important scene in the middle of the script, often a reversal of fortune or revelation that changes the direction of the story. Field suggests that driving the story towards the Midpoint keeps the second act from sagging.
  5. Pinch 2: Another reminder scene about 5/8 through the script (halfway through Act 2b) that is somehow linked to Pinch 1 in reminding the audience about the central conflict. In Star Wars, Pinch 2 is the Stormtroopers attacking them as they rescue the Princess in the Death Star. Both scenes remind us of the Empire’s opposition, and using the Stormtrooper attack motif unifies both Pinches.
  6. Plot Point 2: A dramatic reversal that ends Act 2 and begins Act 3, which is about confrontation and resolution. Sometimes Plot Point 2 is the moment when the Hero has had enough and is finally going to face the Opponent. Sometimes, like in Toy Story, it’s the low-point for the Hero, and he must bounce back to overcome the odds in Act 3.
  7. Climax: About midway through Act 3, the Protagonist will confront the Main Problem of the story and either overcome it, or come to a tragic end.


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7 Basic Romantic Comedy Story Beats (from “Writing the Romantic Comedy” by Billy Mernit)

  1. The Setup/Hook – A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or antagonist’s) current status quo.
  2. The Meet/Inciting Incident – The inciting incident brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come.
  3. The Turning Point – Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal.
  4. The Midpoint/Raising the Stakes – A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship.
  5. Swivel: Second Turning Point – Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts.
  6. The Dark Moment/Crisis – Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humaliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever.
  7. Joyful Defeat/Resolution – A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist.

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7 Basic Plots (from Christopher Booker)

1. Overcoming the Monster (& the Thrilling Escape from Death) Examples: Perseus, Theseus, Beowulf, Dracula, War of the Worlds, Nicholas Nickleby, The Guns of Navarone, Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven, James Bond, Star Wars.

a. Anticipation Stage (The Call to adventure)

b. Dream Stage (Initial Success)

c. Frustration Stage (Confrontation) – Hero confronts the enemy. Things start to go wrong.

d. Nightmare Stage (Final Ordeal) – Disaster erupts and all hope seems lost

e. Miraculous Escape (Death of the Monster) – The hero/ine is eventually victorious, and may also be united or reunited with their ‘other half’ (a romantic partner).

2. Rags to Riches Examples: Cinderella, Aladdin, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, David Copperfield   Dark Version: Le Rouge et Le Noir (1831), What Makes Sammy Run? (1940)

a. Initial Wretchedness at Home (The Call)

b. Out into the World (Initial Success)

c. The Central Crisis

d. Independence (Final Ordeal)

e. Final Union, Completion and Fulfilment

3. The Quest Examples: The Odyssey, Pilgrim’s Progress, King Solomon’s Mines, Watership Down

a. The Call (Oppressed in the City of Destruction)

b. The Journey (Ordeals of the Hero/Heroine & Companions) May include some or all of the following:

c. Monsters

d. Temptations

e. The Deadly Opposites

f. Journey to the Underworld

g. Arrival and Frustration

h. The Final Ordeals

i. The Goal (Kingdom, Other Half or Elixir won)

4. Voyage & Return Examples: Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Orpheus, The Time Machine, Peter Rabbit, Brideshead Revisited, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Gone with the Wind, The Third Man (1948)

a. Anticipation Stage (‘Fall’ into the Other World)

b. Initial Fascination (Dream Stage)

c. Frustration Stage

d. Nightmare Stage

e. Thrilling Escape and Return

5. Comedy Comedy is dealt with by a less rigid structure. In essence, the comedy meta-plot is about building an absurdly complex set of problems which then miraculously resolve at the climax.

[Editors note: Booker apparently knows absolutely nothing about comedy – which is usually highly structured. A glaring omission.]

6. Tragedy Examples: Macbeth, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Carmen, Bonnie & Clyde, Jules et Jim, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Julius Caesar

a. Anticipation Stage (Greed or Selfishness)

b. Dream Stage

c. Frustration Stage

d. Nightmare Stage

e. Destruction or Death Wish Stage

7. Rebirth Examples: Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Peer Gynt

a. Under the Shadow – A young hero or heroine falls under the shadow of a dark power

b. The Threat Recedes – Everything seems to go well for a while – the threat appears to have receded.

c. The Threat Returns – Eventually the threat approaches again in full force, until the hero or heroine is seen imprisoned in a state of living death.

d. The Dark Power Triumphant

e. The state of living death continues for a long time when it seems the dark power has completely triumphed.

f. Miraculous Redemption – If the imprisoned person is a heroine, redeemed by the hero; if a hero, by a young woman or child.

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6-Stage Plot Structure (Michael Hauge)

  1. Setup – Living fully within identity
  2. New Situation – Glimpsing, longing or destiny; glimpse of living life in Essence
  3. Progress – Moving towards Essence without leaving identity
  4. Complications & Higher Stakes – Fully committed to Essence but growing Fear
  5. Final Push – Living one’s Truth with everything to lose
  6. Aftermath – The Journey complete, Destiny achieved


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6 Steps to Creating Story Structure (from “The TV Writers Workbook” by Ellen Sandler, Based on an Original Concept by Mark Ganzel)

  1. “Oh” + “Mah Nish Tah Nah” (Why is this night different from all others?)
  2. “The Little Uh-Oh!”
  3. “Ouch!”
  4. “The Big Uh-Ohhh!”
  5. “Oh no!” + “The Twist-a-Roo!”
  6. “Ah.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

6 Plot Points (from

  1. Initial harmony
  2. Harmony disturbed
  3. Hero is found
  4. The quest
  5. The trials
  6. Harmony re-established

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

5 Act Structure (identified by Aristotle, codified in “Ars Poetica” by Horace)

  1. Prologue
  2. Parados (parade)
  3. 1st Episode
  4. Stassimon (Chorus commentary) – repeat episode/chorus in pairs as necessary
  5. Exodus

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

5 Beats of the “Story Spine” (from “How to Make a Good Script Great” by Linda Seger)

  1. Set-Up
  2. First Turning Point
  3. Second Turning Point
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

5 Beats to the “Central Plot” (from Robert McKee)

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Progressive Complications
  3. Crisis
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Universal Five-Act Structure from “Into the Woods” by John Yorke

  1. Home
  2. Woodland, Day
  3. The Forest
  4. The Road Back, Night
  5. Home Again, Changed

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Turn and Burn Structure by CJ Walley

  1. Yearn
  2. Turn
  3. Burn
  4. Learn
  5. Earn

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

4-Act Structure of Dramatica

The article also compares Dramatica to 6 other story structures.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

4 Elements of Traditional Japanese Story Structure (Kishōtenketsu)

  1. Introduction or ‘kiku’ (起句)
  2. Development or ‘shōku’ (承句)
  3. Twist or ‘tenku’ (転句)
  4. Conclusion or ‘kekku’ (結句)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Simplified 3-Act Structure from “Into the Woods by John Yorke

  1. Act One: Establish a flawed character
  2. Act Two: Confront them with their opposite
  3. Act Three: Synthesize the two to achieve balance

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

3 Primal Story Components (from


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Three Parts to Any Story (from George M. Cohan?)

In Act I you chase your hero up a tree

In Act II you throw rocks at him

In Act III you let him down (or, in a tragedy, you kill them—or they fall to their deaths—but Cohan didn’t say that part).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

3 Elements of Unified Plot Structure (from “Poetics” by Aristotle)

  1. Beginning
  2. Middle
  3. End

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I know this list is highly-biased towards American and European models, but that’s what I’m most familiar with – and we’ve done the most explicit formulating.

Also, I’ve probably missed many examples of story structure. If you know of any, send me details and/or links and I’ll include them in a future post – or maybe a book.

If I can help you with your writing in any way, let me know. I’m available for one-time or ongoing coaching. Call 323-717-4731 for a free consult or e-mail me your particulars.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Awesome art by Erik Johansson:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

53 comments on “The Story Structure Countdown: How Different ‘Experts’ Say You Should Structure a Story

  1. lauradionjones
    March 2, 2014

    Awesome post. Thank you. Best in health,

    Laura Dion-Jones 312-933-7325 Pro-Health Activist, Certified Corporate Wellness Coach, Certified Wellness Coach,l TV & Radio Show Host, Motivational & Lifestyle Writer, Speaker and Author: Commit To Get Fit: Find the Secret to Your Own True and Everlasting Weight Loss – out NOW on Amazon, iTunes, B&N and wherever fine print and e-books are sold.

  2. Christopher Eller
    March 6, 2014

    Thank you for compiling these. I’m deeply familiar with (and love) several of them (Field, Hauge, Snyder, Truby, Segar, King, Vogler, Gulino, and Campbell of course). Actually I LOVE story structure much more than writing–sucks to be me. I recently found two that I really, really connected with. Jeffrey Alan Schecter’s My Story Can Beat Up Your Story is very accessible to me personally. And I enjoyed Eric Edson’s Story Solution (based on hero goal sequences).

    • gregwithnail
      July 9, 2014

      I love Edson’s “The Story Solution”. I struggled a bit with Vogler – for some reason I just couldn’t get my head around the concepts of “The Ordeal” and “Resurrection” – and found Edson much more accessible. On the basis of our shared enthusiasm for Edson, I’m going to get hold of Schecter’s book ASAP.

  3. Shaula Evans
    March 8, 2014

    What a brilliant post and herculean labor, Greg. I’ve pointed Black Board readers at it: Story Structure Clearinghouse.

    • JTV
      May 3, 2014

      Shaula!!! OMG – Fancy meeting you here. Hope all’s great.
      I wonder where you are in the world. You could be… *anywhere*. 🙂
      JT Velikovsky

  4. David Sosna
    April 18, 2014

    Wow! What an amazing effort! What a useful tool! It’s too late and I’ve only skimmed it, so more later. But for now, great work. Thank you.

    • gregorymilleris
      April 19, 2014

      Thanks David – I just got back to town after a week hiking in Utah, so more later from me too.

  5. Robert Grant
    April 21, 2014

    You should check out The StoryAlity(TM) Screenplay Syntagm:

    It’s based on the idea that there is a definite time/page-based sequence to high ROI screenplays and it matches the Fibonacci Sequence. It’s a bit ‘out there’ but worth a read.

    Also, for beginners, I usually point them to Jeffrey Alan Schecter’s ‘My Story Can Beat Up Your Story’ which has a simple outline, broken into acts 1/2/3, you can use for story structure laid out against Star Wars as an example. Like all of them, take it with a pinch of salt, but if you’re new to screenwriting it’s easy to understand and work with. Incidentally it’s also the basis for the software Contour, by Mariner.

  6. Paddy
    April 21, 2014

    Superbly useful post. Bookmarked! How about including John Yorke’s 5 Act structure from his Into The Woods? I also found the feminist analysis in Helen Jacey’s The Woman In The Story refreshing.

    • gregorymilleris
      April 21, 2014

      Good suggestions. I’m onto them now.

    • gregorymilleris
      April 21, 2014

      I’ve restricted myself to material freely available online to avoid infringing anyone’s proprietary material and haven’t found Yorke’s 5-act structure described anywhere. Do you know where it might be available? Thanks. btw I’m

  7. JTV
    May 2, 2014

    Wow. Nice work Greg!
    I did a similar thing, here:
    But I think I like yours better 🙂

    JT Velikovsky

  8. Stewart McKie
    May 2, 2014

    Great summary. Don’t forget Murdoch’s Heroines Journey (which was actually published before Vogler’s masculine version) and also see Yorke (2013) p.256 for some others.

  9. Stewart McKie
    May 2, 2014

    Great summary. Don’t forget Murdoch’s Heroines Journey (which was actually published before Vogler’s masculine version) and also see Yorke (2013) p.256 for some others.

    • gregorymilleris
      May 6, 2014

      I haven’t found Mudoch’s story structure online. Do you have an online source? I’ve restricted myself from posting potentially proprietary info that isn’t already freely available elsewhere online.

  10. JTV
    May 2, 2014

    Snap! Hey Stewart, hope all’s good. Yeh that one (Murdock) popped into my head as well… Equal gender air-time, and all that good stuff. Though, perhaps interestingly, I also know many (well, okay, *some*) female writers who have certain issues with Murdock’s system… But I suppose, on some level, most of us have issues with, almost-everything. (…Why isn’t everything perfect, dagnabbit-?!) 🙂

  11. Eddy
    May 8, 2014

    Great compilation. I totally agree. Each has merit but isn’t “the answer” because there is no ONE answer. What is clear to one writer is gibberish to another.

    Every structure should be organic and unique to the character driving the story. Jake Krueger’s 7 Act Structure ( focuses on that. I find it very helpful. It’s a way of helping you to develop your characters journey not a formula you have to follow.

    Thanks for the post!

    • gregorymilleris
      May 8, 2014

      I love all the suggestions of other structures and Jake’s seems likely to add, but I don’t see the 7 acts enumerated on his site. Did I miss it? I’ve restricted myself to including only material that’s freely available online. Some people like to keep their formulas secret in order to get paid for their info.

  12. gregorymilleris
    May 19, 2014

    Now updated with Yorke, Velikovsky – and Horace!

    • JT Velikovsky
      May 20, 2014

      Thanks Greg… “Collect ’em all!” (This brand of humour, copyright 2014 Greg Miller)

  13. Pingback: Review: “Into the Woods” by John Yorke | THE OTHER NETWORK WRITER'S ROOM

  14. Amanda
    June 26, 2014

    Wow. Beyond helpful. Thank you.

  15. Emma Darwin
    July 7, 2014

    This is hugely helpful, thank you – both for myself, and for my teaching!

    Apart from anything else, it shows just how helpful thinking in these terms is, but also how much there’s no one guru – which is a point excellently made by John Yorke, though you wouldn’t think it to hear some of the more die-hard fans of particular writers on this stuff.

  16. gregorymilleris
    July 7, 2014

    Thanks Emma. Agreed. Fundamentalism is everywhere. Apparently absolute certainty works for some!

  17. gregwithnail
    July 8, 2014

    Love this – must have taken you ages to put it together!
    I’m not sure whether it meets your criteria for inclusion, but Dramatica Theory (Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley) is conspicuous by its absence. I think a PDF version of the book is available free – at least, it was about ten years ago. Health warning: It’s quite complex and, sadly, not very well written in places. But I do think it deserves a mention.

    • gregorymilleris
      July 8, 2014

      I’m not that familiar with the system, but isn’t Dramatica more of a program/algorhythm than a stable structure? I was also informed (by Truby’s office when they requested I remove Truby’s 22 Steps from this blog) that Truby is in the process of suing Dramatica for infringing his ‘copyrighted’ story structure – which, to me, seems like only a minor variation of Campbell.

      • gregwithnail
        July 9, 2014

        Hi Greg – thanks for your reply.

        There is a computer program intended to streamline things (TBH it’s clunky as hell and very dated), but Dramatica is first and foremost a structure theory like the others on this page. Granted, there are some IF…THEN bits, which I suppose makes it an algorithm of sorts. But they’re still more the sort of decisions you could make scribbling on the back of a cigarette packet than the sort that require a supercomputer. Having said that, I’ve read the Dramatica book cover to cover several times and just come away with a headache! I instinctively feel it has very important things to say, my brain’s just not up to it – or at least isn’t on Phillips & Huntley’s wavelength!

        I’ve not read Truby’s book, so can’t comment Dramatica’s similarities, but if 22 Steps is a minor variation on Campbell then he’s on a hiding to nothing IMO, as Dramatica is anything but that. (e.g., It seems to have way, WAY more to say about complementary character functions.)

        Incidentally, Dramatica was, AFAIK, conceived in the early 1990s, about fifteen years before Truby published his 22 Steps. Not necessarily a legal clincher, I admit, but while the jury’s out I’d still say Dramatica deserves attention.

        Thanks again for a great post.

      • gregwithnail
        July 9, 2014

        In case it’s helpful, here’s a link to the Dramatica book as a free download in PDF:
        (Which is lot cheaper – in both senses! – than getting it from Amazon.)
        If anyone out there has read and understood it, PLEASE explain it to me, lol.

      • Chris Huntley
        August 25, 2014

        Wow, I missed this post on my first read through. Let me put a couple of things straight.

        First, Truby is not suing us as far as I know, nor have we ever been sued for anything in our 32 year history.

        Second, Dramatica is a narrative theory, a book based on the theory, and a line of software products incorporating many key aspects of the theory, all in the public sphere since 1994. The software is unique in that it has a non-data driven story engine that embodies the human problem-solving process, which just happens to be reflected in the underlying structure of most narratives. By answering about a dozen questions about your story (the system is non-linear so which questions you answer is largely dependent on what you know most strongly about your story), the Dramatica software will indicate to you over sixty other key aspects of your story (called story points) that should be part of your story to support your choices — sort of like describing what you see of an ice berg above the waterline and having it tell you what the parts of the iceberg below the waterline look like.

        Lastly, there is no basis for Truby to sue me (since I wrote the article) since the article was written as a journalistic comparison between seven different paradigms and I constructed the illustration myself from notes taken by my business partner during one of Truby’s classes. There was no copyright infringement, and ideas cannot be copyrighted.

        Gregory, I would be very interested in seeing the communication from Truby’s office to you indicating their legal actions against us. I would find it useful to determine whether or not I should contact John myself. (I’ve known John for over twenty years.)

      • gregorymilleris
        August 25, 2014

        All I had was a phone call from someone saying they were from Truby’s office and telling me to take down any of his ‘proprietary’ story steps or there could be legal action. She said that Truby’s publisher was being especially aggressive despite the fact that his steps are readily available elsewhere online, that I was posting the information in a journalistic/academic context (and they’re clearly derived from Campbell’s journey monomyth anyway). I took it down because I didn’t want to get into it with them. You journal on, Chris.

  18. gregorymilleris
    July 9, 2014

    Thanks so much for the comments – and the additional resources.

  19. Chris Huntley
    August 21, 2014

    Hi Greg — I’m surprised you did not include Dramatica in your comparisons, especially since you lifted my illustrations of McKee’s, Seger’s, Hauge’s, Field’s, and Vogler’s story structure in my comparison to Dramatica’s story structure. At the very least, please give me credit for those images. Thank you. Chris Huntley, co-writer of Dramatica: A New Theory of Story (1994) and author of the article, “How and Why Dramatica is Different from Six Other Story Paradigms” (

    • gregorymilleris
      August 23, 2014

      Sorry Chris. No offense meant. Thanks for writing.

    • gregorymilleris
      August 23, 2014

      I actually found the illustrations via other sources and didn’t even realize they were yours. OK if I include the Dramatica structure diagram to this blog now?


    • gregwithnail
      August 24, 2014

      Hi Chris. Can you comment on whether the thing about Truby is accurate? (See comments above.)

      • Chris Huntley
        August 25, 2014

        If you mean about Truby suing us? We’ve not heard anything about this before despite the threat of it being baseless.

    • Robert Richards
      June 4, 2015

      Chris – Are you planning a version of Story Expert for Windows? It’s not that I don’t like Dramatica Pro, but it is quite old. I believe it was released when Windows XP was still fresh, and Windows 10 is coming out in a few weeks. I’m also asking because I hope you are not one of those software companies that cater to the Mac crowd.

      • Tristano Ajmone
        September 17, 2015

        Hi Robert. I’ve found on Write Brothers website the following comment on Dramatica Story Expert 5, under System Requirements tab:

        “Dramatica Story Expert for Windows is in the works and we’ll announce its availability as soon as it is ready for prime time.”

        So, it looks likes it will eventually be released for Windows also. When … I wouldn’t know though.

        I’d like to point out that even though Dramatica Pro v.4 for Windows is indeed old, it still works fine. I’ve seen it running on a Windows 8.1 machine, without any problems (and I’m speaking of the first CD edition!). It seems that the only precaution in installing it would be to choose a folder other than the standard Program folders (a new folder in the root, or a secondary partition would do). Also, Windows CHM help files will require MS Help to be installed to.

        Surely, the Story Expert version is cute, with better graphics and all. Still, if you’re just focused on writing, Dramatica Pro 4 still works its magic, and quite fine. The setup folder is less than 9 MBs, and system requirements are really tiny, so any modern computer, even a small netbook will make it run light fast and with more ram than it needs.

        Icons and GUI surely look old … But it works. Which is better than nothing.

        I’ve seen Dramatica being used, and used it myself quite a few times, and it always fascinated me. I’ve also bought and read the Dramatica Theory book and read it over many times. Even though I am not a writer, I love reading and studying how novels and fictions work. My opinion is that Dramatica makes a lot of sense, and it does apply to any well formed story.

        The book is more than enough to understand Dramatica, and even if you don’t stick to it 100% it still broadens your mind when it comes to story writing.

        The software is a great tool to help you plot out and revise your novel so that nothing is left out. It allows to keep track of hundred of elements which would otherwise be difficult by hand.

        I know that many people get upset by such statements, because they think that “creativity can’t be pinned down in a formula”. But this is not what Dramatica claims to do at all. Dramatica (as a theory and software tool) is all about handling stories from multiple perspectives, and offering a full view of the problems (conflicts) to the reader through 4 storylines (which are not to be mistaken with narrative points of view). Its not a prison cache impeding freedom of expression, nor it outputs a blueprint script to follow by filling the blanks—not at all!

        Its more an aid, a reminder, a brainstormer, and a tutor. But it doesn’t pretend to replace skill and creativity.

        And yes, I think Dramatica deserves mentioning on any web page that reviews tools for fiction writers.

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  21. roger bullis
    March 1, 2015

    The Three Parts to Any Story (from George M. Cohan?)

    No, George S. Kaufman. Playwright and screenwriter.

    Wrote “A Night at the Opera” and “You
    Can’t Take it With You” and “The Man Who Came To Dinner.”

    • gregorymilleris
      March 4, 2015

      I’ve heard it attributed to others as well. Do you have a source?

  22. Gwyn Huff-Author
    July 6, 2015

    Reblogged this on Gwyn Huff-Author and commented:
    This article about story structure stuck with me a while; when used with the Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler and Michael Hauge’s story stucture this makes a “spicy and meatier” stew. This article is a good supplement to Vogler and Hauge. Also check out a site called and the free film school. I got the DVD set and the workbook by Sherri Sheridan. I have two other story structure authors I’ll mention in my blog. These five story artists/crafters are screen writers and authors. It doesn’t matter. I wish someone made this clear when I started out–learn all the elelments of a story and then tell/write the story in whatever format screenplay or novel or graphic novel. Learn story first! Peace!

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