Why Successful Novels Need Story Structure
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple secret to writing successful stories?
Almost every writer wants their novels to succeed, but actually writing a fan-favorite adventure is a tricky thing. After all, even if your characters are interesting and your plot is exciting, your novel can still fall flat. When so much goes into writing an impactful story, it’s hard to ensure everything is firing on all cylinders.
Fortunately, while there is no single trick to writing a bestseller—no matter what anyone tells you—there is one thing writers can use to boost their novels’ success and bring their stories together: structure. Specifically, story structure!
The Secret to Successful Stories: Story Structure
First up, let’s be honest—there are a ton of elements that go into writing a successful story. From compelling characters to strong pacing, worldbuilding, plot development, and more, we as writers have our work cut out for us.
However, there is one element of storytelling that intersects with all of these things, but that writers too often ignore:
If you’re unfamiliar with story structure, then let’s start with a quick definition:
Story structures are culturally recognized frameworks for telling engaging stories with maximum emotional impact.
Your story’s structure will affect every aspect of your novel—from your characters to your plot—which makes it a critical skill to master. What’s more, you’re probably already using some kind of structure in your stories, even if you don’t realize it just yet.
This is because story structure is the secret that ties our novels together, whether we’re using it on purpose or not. Over the years, we’ve absorbed the principles of story structure through osmosis simply by reading and enjoying our favorite stories, until eventually these structures have become natural.
This means that nearly every story we tell has some element of structure hidden inside.
Of course, osmosis isn’t quite enough if you want to write successful stories on a regular basis. To really wield story structure successfully, you’ll need to understand how it works, as well as how it will affect your novel as a whole.
The Benefits of a Structured Story
Starting off, we might as well get the most obvious benefit of structure out of the way first.
Story structure will help you build engaging plots more consistently.
This is definitely the most well-known benefit of story structure, and it’s often why writers take structure seriously in the first place. After all, your plot is a major component of your novel, and ensuring it has a healthy balance of turning points and plot developments is key to your story’s overall success.
Fortunately, this is exactly what story structure does. It gives you a framework for your story, reminds you when moments of change and development need to take place, and ensures your plot keeps moving forward in a way that feels meaningful to your larger story.
However, that isn’t the only benefit story structure has to offer…
Story structure will also play a major role in connecting every other element of your story. This includes everything from:
When it comes to your characters, worldbuilding, theme, and conflict, story structure mostly serves to ensure you’re giving them the development they need. For instance, your characters will grow and change throughout their character arcs, and any good structure will have dedicated space for that growth to occur—same with time for fleshing out your worldbuilding and expanding on your novel’s conflict.
Meanwhile, pacing is a bit different, but no less important.
When used well, story structure will help you space out the major events of your story in a way that keeps your reader engaged, without overwhelming them. This applies to everything from your overall plot to your individual scenes too!
Basically, story structure helps you balance these important elements, ensuring they get the attention they need and that they all contribute to your story equally.
Of course, many writers shy away from story structure because they’re afraid it’ll restrict their creativity. Fortunately, they couldn’t be more wrong!
This is because story structure isn’t a rulebook, but a framework.
These structures aren’t there to dictate your novel to you, but rather to give you a set of rough guidelines for how your final novel might take shape.
Still, I won’t deny that story structure does come with some restrictions. These structures will push you to pay attention to things like turning points, pacing, and the stakes of your story, because those things are the key to writing an impactful novel. However, I would also argue that this is a good thing.
You see, restrictions breed creativity. When you can’t just move forward with whatever your first idea is, you have to pause and truly consider all of your options. In the process, you start to realize things you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and your novel becomes stronger because of it.
By the end, you’ll have nurtured a ton of new ideas that will add extra depth and variety to your story—and you’ll be glad you did!
The Feeling of Catharsis:
Last but not least, let’s talk about catharsis.
Catharsis is an ancient Greek term for the feeling of emotional release you get at the end of a good story. Its equal parts bittersweet and satisfying, and it’s basically required for your novel to be truly successful.
It’s also deeply tied to story structure.
You see, when it comes time to resolve your story, your job as a writer is to tie all the elements of your plot, characters, and theme together in a cohesive and—most importantly—cathartic way. However, that can be difficult to do, and it’s even harder to do if you haven’t been planning for that resolution from the beginning.
Fortunately, this sense of catharsis is built into story structure.
By following a basic structure when planning your novel, you’ll already have the necessary turning points, highs, and lows needed to engage your readers emotionally. This way, when it comes time to resolve your story, you simply need to pay off the plot threads you’ve laid out—which is a much easier task when you’ve had a framework to follow from the beginning.
Ultimately, when it comes to satisfying your readers and leaving a lasting impression, catharsis is the name of the game, and so is story structure!
How to Use Story Structure in Your Own Novel
Of course, these benefits are all well and good—but how do you actually apply story structure to your own novels?
Well, first and foremost, you need to understand the theory behind these structures. How do they work, where do they come from, and how will they affect your stories? Fortunately, I’ve created a ton of articles all about the art of structuring a novel. So, make sure to check those out before you go. 🙂
- An Introduction to the Three Act Structure
- The 9 Stages of the Hero’s Journey and How to Use Them
- The Basics of Scene Structure: Action and Reaction
- Chapter Structure: How to Write the Perfect Chapter