Story Structure 6/9/2020

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by Shawn Lamb

Structure is hanger upon which plot is hung.  The simplest structure is The Three-Act Method, which divides the story into three acts: beginning, middle and end.  This method of storytelling has been around since the Greeks.

For centuries, verbal folktales reigned in many countries since most of the populous couldn’t read or write. However, for those who wrote plays, poetry and prose, the Three-Act Structure became foundational. In 300 B.C., Aristotle identified the elements in a story as plot, character and dialogue.  Further refinement was done around 340 B.C. at the Acropolis to help the actors in their performances by dividing the stage into parts for actors, choral and orchestra.

Eventually, the Three-Act-Structure became standard for the written wordGustav Freytag refined the definition, and is now called “Freytag’S Pyramid . Notice how Freytag added 2 more point to fully explain structure/plot. 


Today’s writing courses, teach 2 basic methods for plotting: Snowflake, and Index Cards. The Index Card Method is by far the simplest, going point-by-point of the story from beginning to end. There can be subplots mentioned in the outline, introduction of characters, main points, action or anything else germane to the story. Some people find the Index Cards easier, as they can rearrange the cards to suit ideas.

The Snowflake Method is much more complex and time consuming. It begins in the center and works outward. Here are the 10 steps for the typical Snowflake Method.  

  1. Write a 1-sentence summary of your story. Fifteen words or less is preferable. This would be consider the hook or pitch line describing the story. 
  2. Expand the sentence to a full paragraph and include major disasters, conflict and ending. In this paragraph, incorporate the 3-Act Structure in highlighting the beginning, middle and end of the story arch. 
  3. Now that you have an overview of the story, write outline for each of the main characters. Include: 
  4. Character’s Name 
  5. One-sentence of the character’s storyline 
  6. One-sentence motivation 
  7. One-sentence goal 
  8. One-sentence conflict 
  9. A sentence on epiphany – or major changes as a result of conflict 

Expand the summary in Step 2 and write a paragraph of how each major plot  point is going to occur. In other words, put meat on your skeleton. 

  1. Take a day or two and write a 1 page synopsis of how each major character will fit into the expanded story. Give the character’s POV or take on the story. 
  2. Expand the paragraphs of Step 4 into full-page plot and storyline. This could be your synopsis for later submission. 
  3. Take another week and expand your brief character descriptions in to full character flow charts, detailing the character’s involved in the story arch. 
  4. Spreadsheet of Steps 1-7 Write chapter summaries.

Now, for some people – like me – a pantsters, everything flows naturally without using either of these methods. If that’s you – great! Don’t hem in creativity by trying these methods. When I studied with Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writer’s Guild for three years, I had lessons using each plotting style. I became frustrated, and felt confined. For those of you who need structure to help with plotting, I hope this helps.

About the Author:

Shawn LambShawn Lamb is an award-winning author of over 20 books. She travels the country as an event speaker and workshop leader. To learn more about her books, visit:  or for information about speaking engagements, contact her at email: 

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