On Writing: The 4 Major Story Structures for Fiction

Book Tornado

There are different ways to start a story and different ways to write them.  Sometimes they start with an idea for a character and that character’s journey.  Sometimes they start with a place, known or invented.  Sometimes they start with a problem that needs solving.

Whatever motivates you to write – take it and run!

Looking for motivation to write?  Here are some different types of story structures that might help get you started.

I have my favorite author Orson Scott Card to thank for these 4 story structures.  He wrote an article for Writer’s Digest about them.  I believe they are also mentioned in his book on writing, “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.”  They have inspired me on how to focus my stories – some fall into all 4 of these categories.  I hope they in turn inspire you or at least help you focus your story to a fine enough point to start, continue, or even finish.

Milieu Story

In the Milieu Story, the focus is the world and showing and explaining that world.  Want an example of a Milieu Story?  Think of the Wizard of Oz.  The point is made most obvious in the movie because as soon as Dorothy arrives there, the movie goes from black and white to color, then back to black and white when she leaves.  This is because the land of Oz is the focus of the story.

Start: The protagonist arrives in the world.

End: The protagonist leaves the world.

Idea Story

In the Idea Story, the focus is seeking and discovering new information.  The best example of an Idea Story is a mystery.  Something unexplained happens and the main character has to figure out the how and why.  Think of the Dresden Files series.

Start: A question is raised.

End: The question is answered.

Event Story

In the Event Story, the world is out of order and the focus is making things right.  The Lord of the Rings is a great example of an Event Story.  The world is in disarray and Sauron is trying to conquer it.  The story revolves around stopping him and setting the world back to “right.”

Start: The protagonist enters the conflict.

End: A new world order is established.

Character Story

In the Character Story, the focus is the development of the protagonist.  I heard somewhere the series A Song of Fire and Ice (ie. Games of Thrones) described as a character story, or more appropriately a group of character stories.  Since I do not know how the series ends yet (after reading all the books), I cannot confirm or deny this.  But it makes sense.  Especially the character Daenerys, who has gone through a number of moments of character growth already.  Despite all the story arcs, I think she will end up being the “main” character.

Start: The protagonist becomes unhappy and/or seeks change.

End: The protagonist settles back into happy or gives up.

The are a number of other ways to categorize story structures, but I find these to be the most all-encompassing.

~ Effy