Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Nanowrimo: Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Happy Nanowrimo!  Here's a road map (or cheat sheet!) for you, incorporating various elements of the Eight Sequence Structure, the Hero/ine's Journey, and other structure paths. 

I'll be posting questions and prompts throughout the month for Wrimos.

But also I have something to say to writers who aren't doing Nano this year:

Good for you!

The most important thing is to work in a way that is effective and right for you. You may not be ready to launch head first into 50,000 straight words of writing. So work on your outline. Work on revising the draft you have. Brainstorm your best possible idea (which is really key to everything that comes later). Whatever it is, DO IT. Commit to write for five minutes a day, every day. It's amazing how that five minutes turns into an hour, or three. And a year later,  or less, you suddenly have a book.

Next month's posts are for you, too.

Good luck, everyone!

- Alex

Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Act One: Key Story Elements

Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet:


We meet the Hero/ine in the Ordinary World.

S/he has:

-- a Ghost or Wound

-- a strong Desire

-- Special Skills

And an Opponent, or several, which is standing in the way of her getting what s/he wants, and possibly wants exactly the same thing that s/he wants.

S/he gets a Call to Adventure: a phone call, an invitation, a look from a stranger, that invites her to change her life.

That impulse may be blocked by a

-- Threshold Guardian

-- And/or the Opponent

-- And/or s/he is herself reluctant to take the journey.

But she overcomes whatever opposition,

-- Gathers Allies and the advice of a Mentor

-- Formulates a specific PLAN to get what s/he wants

-- And Crosses the Threshold Into the Special World.


The Hero/ine goes after what s/he wants, following the PLAN.

The Opponent blocks and attacks, following his or her own PLAN to get what s/he wants.

The Hero/ine may now:

-- Gather a Team

-- Train for battle (in a love story this can be shopping or dating)

-- Investigate the situation

-- Pass numerous Tests

All following the Plan, to achieve the Desire.

No matter what genre, we experience scenes that deliver on the Promise of the Premise: magic, flying, sex, mystery, horror, thrills, action.

We also enjoy the Hero/ine’s Bonding with Allies or Falling in Love.

And usually in this Act the Hero/ine is Winning.

Then at the Midpoint, there is a big Reversal, Revelation, Loss, or Win that is a Game-Changer.


The Hero/ine must Recover and Recalibrate from the game-changer of the Midpoint

And formulate a New Plan.

Neither the Hero/ine nor the Antagonist has gotten what they want, and everyone is tired and pissed.

Therefore they Make Mistakes

And often Cross a Moral Line

And Lose Allies.

And the Hero/ine, or if not the Hero/ine at least we, are getting the idea (if we didn’t have it before) that the Hero/ine might be WRONG about what s/he wants.

Things begin to Spiral Out of Control

And get Darker and Darker (even if it’s funny)

Until everything crashes in a Black Moment, or All is Lost Moment, or Visit to Death.

And then, out of that compete despair comes a New Revelation for the Hero/ine

That leads to a New Plan for the Final Battle.


The Hero/ine makes that last New Plan

Possibly Gathers the Team (Allies) again

Possibly briefly Trains again

Then Storms the Opponent’s Castle (or basement).

The Team (if there is one) Attacks the Opponent on his or her own turf, and all their

-                       -- Skills are Tested.

-- Subplots are Resolved

-- and Secondary Opponents are defeated in a satisfying way.

Then the Hero/ine goes in alone for the final battle with the Antagonist, and in some way faces her Greatest Nightmare. Her Character Arc, everything s/he’s learned in the story, helps her win it.

The Hero/ine has come Full Circle

And we see the New Way of Life that s/he will live.


If this works to make the process a little easier for you, great! It may be more useful to look at it later, during your rewrites.

And if not, no problem — forget it! I'm just always looking to try to explain things in different ways, because I know for myself, sometimes it just doesn't sink in until I hear it for the tenth or ten thousandth time.


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 15.99.

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This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

                Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


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