Think of story structure as simply the story line or plot. Remember when someone read you a bedtime story as a child. It usually started with ‘Once upon a time’, and ended with ‘And they lived happily ever after’. That’s nice isn’t it, all sunshine and rainbows, but it showed us the story had a beginning and an end.
A lot of stories revolve around a question. I liken it to writing an academic essay, where you answer the question with an introduction, body, and lastly, the conclusion. Let’s look at some examples. Will Harry Potter defeat Voldemort? Will Jon Coffey survive death row? Can Bridget Jones cut down on her alcohol intake, shed the kilos, and find the man of her dreams?
After the question, what happens, and in what sequence it happens, is your story structure. A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You must decide what structure you will follow to take your reader on your chosen journey.
Will your story be character driven or plot driven, they go hand in hand of course, but most stories sway towards one or the other. A character driven story will focus on the characters and showcase an internal conflict rather than an external one. A plot driven story tends to focus more on the setting and events that take place.
There are five types of narrative structure. They are Chronological, Non-Chronological, Circular, Parallel, and Interactive.
Chronological-also known as linear. This is where the story is told in chronological order. Things such as flashbacks may be present, but most of the story is told in the order everything happens. Most books fall into this category.
Non-Chronological-also known as fractured. This is where the story is told out of chronological order. The story can jump all over the place. A good way to think about it is, it still has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order. An example of this is ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte.
Circular. In circular, the story ends in the same place it began. The main character usually goes through a major transformation as a result of the events, and ends up back where they started. A well-known example is, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.
Parallel. In this structure, multiple story lines are being told, but are all tied to one event or person. One well known book written in this narrative is, ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham.
Interactive. A great example is a choose your own adventure children’s book, where the story depends on what page you choose to turn to next. There are alternative endings depending on which path the reader chooses to take.
As you can see, there are many and varied ways to tell your story. Choose one and take your readers on an adventure.