structuring a story

structuring story ravens illustration

Once you’ve hunted down a story and thought about your characters and setting, it’s time to think about structure.  Some writers like to have a really clear plan – others write not knowing where their characters will take them or how their story will end.  This way can be exciting and surprising but you have to make sure each chapter is pushing forward with a clear sense of unfolding drama.  Even if you don’t know the ending of your story, it’s still wise to have an idea of where your story is going, just as J K Rowling says: ‘I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.’


Here are a three moontrug tips to help give your story a structure:


1. Story Arc


Think of Scar from The Lion King for this one.

S – Setting…. C – Character… A – Action… R – Resolution…

Setting: introduce where the story takes place and build the atmosphere.  Character: bring in your main character.  Action: what happens to your main character? Maybe introduce some secondary characters here.  Resolution: how are things resolved?  Are they resolved?  You can take your reader anywhere with your story but you must leave them with HOPE.  ‘Without hope life is meaningless.  Without hope life is meaning less and less.’


2. In Medias Res

man acton

This is a fancy Latin way of saying ‘into the middle of things’ and it’s an exciting way to start your story – right bang in the middle of the action.  Here’s how Michelle Paver opens Wolf Brother: ‘Torak woke with a jolt from a sleep he’d never meant to have.’  Jump right into your scene and then step back a few pages later to fill the reader in on what has been happening before.  With this method you’ll need lots of dramatic verbs to bring the scene to life: flung, clung, tore, sped, lurched, exploded, crouched, burned.


3. Write believable action


Make your action clear.  Don’t write about millions of unconnected events one after the other.  You’ll confuse your reader.  Let events happen naturally, organically, as they do in real life.  And if you’re writing fantasy action, remember that the best kind of magic is the type that is believable – the type that might just be possible after all…  And that kind of stuff is subtle – like a winking cat – not obvious – like thirty UFOs popping out of your bowl of cereal at once.


Use action to create suspense.  The best books are the ones that pull you in so that every night, even though the lights are supposed to be out, you think to yourself, ‘Just one more chapter before I go to bed…’  End each chapter leaving the reader wanting more.  Just as your character gets over one problem, another one surfaces…  Just as your character uncovers a secret, he or she gets caught… Here are a couple of dramatic extracts from two of the best ‘action writers’ in children’s books today – they might just spark some ideas for your own writing:


‘He kicked.  Couldn’t get free.  Something was gripping his legging just above the ankle.  He twisted round to wrench himself free, but the grip held him tight.  He tried to draw his knife from its sheath, but he’d tightened the strap around the hilt before starting the crossing, and he couldn’t get it loose.  Anger boiled inside him.  Get away from me! he shouted inside his head.  You can’t have me – and you can’t have the Nanuak!  Fury lent him strength and he kicked out savagely.  The grip on his leg broke.  Something gave a gurgling howl and sank into darkness.  Torak shot upwards.  He exploded from the water, gulping great chestfuls of air.  Through the glare of the sun he glimpsed a sheet of green river, and an overhanging branch approaching him fast.  With his free hand he reached for it – and missed.  Pain exploded in his head.  He knew he hadn’t been knocked out. He could still feel the slap of the river, and hear his rasping breath – but his eyes were open and staring, and he couldn’t see.  Panic seized him.  Not blind, he thought. No, no please, not blind.’ (From Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver).


‘And the fire in Conor’s chest suddenly blazed, suddenly burned like it would eat him alive.  It was the truth, he knew it was.  A moan started in his throat, a moan that rose into a cry and then a loud wordless yell and he opened his mouth and the fire came blazing out, blazing out to consume everything, bursting over the blackness, over the yew tree, too, setting it ablaze along with the rest of the world, burning it back as Conor yelled and yelled and yelled, in pain and grief – And he spoke the words.  He spoke the truth.’ (From A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness).


4. Opening Lines

engine startHowever you structure your story, you need a belter of an opening line to grab the reader’s attention.  Here are a few of the best ones ever written.  Once you’ve read them, have a go at creating your own and send them back to moontrug in the comment boxes below – if they sparkle with brilliance they may even make it up onto moontrug’s list…



1. ‘The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do.’ (A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness)

2. ‘Yes! No! Maybe? What! Hello.’ (Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree by Andy Stanton)

3. ‘Sometimes there’s no warning.’ (Oath Breaker by Michelle Paver)

4. ‘When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.’ (Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz)

5. ‘My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night.’ (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13¾, by Sue Townsend)

6. ‘It was seven minutes after midnight.’ (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon)

7. ‘On the morning I was scheduled to die, a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house.’ (Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis)

8. ‘Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity—Good.’ (The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson)

9. ‘It was dusk, winter-dusk.’ (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken)

10. ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’ (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling)

11. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ (The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien)

12. ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ (I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith)

13. ‘If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.’ (A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket)

14. ‘Not every 13-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.’ (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Edward Irving Wortis)

15. ‘There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.’ (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman)

16. ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’ (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis)

17. ‘All children, except one, grow up.’ (Peter Pan by J Barrie)

18. ‘Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead.’ (Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett) 

19. ‘Marley was dead, to begin with.’ (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

20. ‘The end of the world started when a Pegasus landed on the hood of my car.’ (The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan)

‘Writing will be like a journey, every word a footstep that takes me further into undiscovered land.’ (Mina, author, and David Almond, author)


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