The shape of a story - Mo Fanning Author

The shape of a story

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There are two types of story writer. Those who just go where the words take them (sometimes known as flying by the seat of their pants – pantsers) and those whose planning efforts make Covid vaccination deployment look like the Teddy Bear’s Picnic (planners). I was a pantser, now I’m a dedicated planner.

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, why not take a minute to plan the story you plan to tell?

I’ve seen too many would-be books collapse at the 30,000 word mark as I either lost interest or found I couldn’t really work out how to get to the ending I had in mind because I’ve gone in every kind of weird direction. It’s all too easy to say ‘the characters made me do it’. They didn’t. You made you do it. Characters don’t suddenly take on a life of their own and do what they want. You decide to let them.

If the idea of planning has you feeling you’d lose creative control, ask yourself how many drafts you’ve done of that book you’re still working on and how many times you’ve edited those brilliant first three chapters knowing that what follows isn’t AS good. Or run a stock take on abandoned novels or those where everything happens at the start or end in a rush and there’s a saggy middle (like a saggy bottom, but harder to disguise with cream and a load of strawberries).

The three-act story structure

The three-act structure is a classic way to plan your story. Act one sets up the status quo – it tells the reader where they are and who does what and establishes motivations.

Act two kicks in after an inciting incident (a decision made or something that happens after which there is no going back to the status quo). This is the meat of your story and goes on a while. Because pace matters, you need to build in drama along the way, spacing it out, each time creating higher stakes for your main character. Each time, having something they do inspire what follows. Each time, creating a stage from which there is no easy return. And then … just as everything looks to be working out, grab the rug and pull. Bring things crashing down and let your character find a way through. It may not be to where they first wanted to go, but everything they learned along the way comes into play now as we start …

Act three – the resolution, where you might again feature a dramatic flourish, but your aim is to land that plane. To take the character to one side and ask “what did you want to do/achieve?” and then “What did you achieve?”. The story ends all neat and tidy and tied up in a pace-maintained bow.

Jack and Jill plot

Download my planning tool

Download in PowerpointI’ve created a FREE planning tool you can open in PowerPoint to use with your own screenplays or stories.

Let me know if it’s helpful.

Rebuilding Alexandra Small by Mo Fanning


By Mo Fanning

Mo Fanning is a British author of dark romantic comedies including the Book of the Year nominated bestseller 'The Armchair Bride', 'Rebuilding Alexandra Small' and 2022's hit holiday romcom 'Ghosted'.

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