Choosing the right plot structure is essential to a telling the story you want to tell. It’s like choosing the right metaphor because plot structure is the hanger you hang your story on.
It’s the skeleton that shapes the flesh of your story so that people can see who and what your story is.
You see what I just did there?
If you don’t choose the right word people will not know what you’re talking about.
If you don’t choose the right metaphor people will not understand the concept you are trying to convey.
If you don’t choose the right plot structure people will not understand the message of the story you are trying to tell.
But, there are a number of standard plot structures for telling different types of stories, and here are 11 of them.
The Roller Coaster
This plot structure is plot driven as opposed to character driven and is typical of action and suspense novels. Instead of having a major climax at the end of the novel there are a bunch of climaxes throughout the plot that build toward the end.
Think of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
In this structure the same story is told over and over again from different points of view or so that we see how different actions might have resulted in a different conclusion.
In this structure the climax comes at the beginning of the story as well as the end. We first see the effect and then we see the causes that led up to it.
The Parallel Structure
This is a story with two or more plots that run parallel to each other and reflect upon each other.
Think The Lord of the Rings.
This structure is a series of stories linked together by similar characters, themes, locations etc.
Read Orlando by Virginia Woolf
The female melodrama focuses on tragedy and focuses on the main character as a victim and the family issues are left are unresolved at the end.
Watch All That Heaven Allows.
The issues in the male version of the melodrama are reconciled at the end.
Watch Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray.
This structure focuses on two main characters who fall in love. ‘Nuff said.
Read Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice.
In this structure a main character sets off on an adventure and grows emotionally.
It’s hard to define this structure because the reader must participate in its construction and can change the flow of the narrative.
Read Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar.
11. The Slice of Life
These stories are very stream of consciousness and are character oriented. It rejects the traditional three act structure.
Read Anton Chekhov’s An Upheaval as an example.
So there you have it, eleven plot structure techniques that help to shape the story you want to tell. Obviously some are better suited for some stories than are others. And, obviously, there’s a lot more to discuss about each one.
For more information you will want to read Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s great book Story Structure Architect.