You do not need any formula to tell a good story. That said, understanding the basics of story structure can unlock the freedom to be original. Let’s get after it!
At its core, a story is simply a series of events. An event is when a character faces off against an obstacle in pursuit of their ultimate goal. The character wins or loses. “There is no tie” – Yoda, in a lesser-known moment.
Often, stories are structured into three acts. Or five. Or two. I tried nineteen once. But I’m going to talk about the three-act ones because they’re hot right now.
Act I introduces the main character (the protagonist) in their everyday life, known as the ordinary world.
After a norm is established, in comes the inciting incident!! This is an event that completely upsets the balance of the protagonist’s life. This incident is often caused by the antagonist: the primary opposing force. Dun dun dunnnnn.
Then someone (or something) tells the protagonist to do something about this upset in what is referred to as a call to adventure.
It’s not that simple though, because the protagonist is hesitant and resistant to change. This is the refusal. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
When the protagonist finally agrees to the adventure, that kicks the story into Act II. This act often introduces new characters in a subplot, also known as B story. The B story always supports the main story in some way. This is the part that makes the rom-com worth watching, where the best friends have a bunch of hilarious and romantic moments.
The midpoint is exactly what you’d think, the middle(ish) point of the story. This moment is the inverse of the story’s resolution. So if there’s a happy ending coming, this is where things go horribly wrong. The protagonist might even complete their goal–BUT it’s not what they expected. Blast!
Things start to get really intense for the protagonist now, at an ever-rapid pace, pushing them toward their darkest moment where all seems lost.
Sometimes this is followed by a breakthrough, where the protagonist sees one last chance or a glimmer of hope.
In Act III, the protagonist faces their greatest challenge yet in the climax. He or she finally defeats the antagonist (or if you’re going for an Oscar, the protagonist loses in the most tragic possible way).
The protagonist returns back to their world but is forever changed in the resolution.
Boom. That’s all it is. Stories don’t have any other elements.
I’m obviously kidding… they also have magic. In any case, I do encourage you to hold your story up to this basic outline. Where does it match? Where does it deviate?