How Story Structure Saved My Sanity (and My Writing Career!) by Cathy Bryant

Hello, Katy Lee here. Today I have author, Cathy Bryant visiting the Scribes with some really great info for you! So take it away, Cathy!

Psst. Hey you. Yes, you. Wanna hear a secret? I have oodles of incomplete novels residing in my file cabinets. They started off as great story ideas—stories I was in love with enough to launch myself into the lengthy process of writing a novel . . . um, well . . . at least for the first thirty-thousand words.

So what happened between my optimistic start and the time where I threw my hands up in surrender, snatched up the stacks of finished pages, and crammed them in the dark depths of my desk? Simple. I hit the proverbial brick wall and couldn’t decide where the stories should go next.

For years, the same scenario would play itself out. Dream the story. Attack it with gusto. Write merrily. Hit the wall. (Rinse. Repeat.) Then once my kids were grown and on their own, I decided it was time to get serious. I voraciously studied the craft of writing using the internet, books, online classes—whatever I could get my hands on. Then finally, I found the cure for my ailment . . .

. . . Story structure.

All stories follow a tried-and-true formula (with minor variations). Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it. Read this post, then watch two or three movies—preferably in different genres—to see if you can find these elements included in each of them. And to drive home the point, I’ll also give you a few movie examples. (You can do this with books, but it saves time to watch a two-hour movie instead.)

Part One

-Regular World:

When the story begins, the main character is in his/her normal everyday world. (Examples: Mary is at the wedding of a client in The Wedding Planner; Frodo is in the shire in Lord of the Rings; George Bailey is in Bedford Falls in It’s A Wonderful Life.)

Opportunity Knocks For A New Life:

The hero/heroine then has an opportunity for a new life. (Examples: Erinpersuades an attorney to give her a job in Erin Brokovich; Robin Williams’ character initiates a plan to see his children in Mrs. Doubtfire.)

Part Two

Event That Changes the Plan:

Something happens to the main character that changes everything and moves them into the real story. (Examples: A tornado hits Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz; the ship hits an iceberg in Titanic.)

-The Point of No Return (midpoint of the story):

Our hero/heroine must move ahead knowing there is no turning back, with the stakes higher than ever. (Example: In an attempt to gather evidence, Mitch McDeere is forced to hide his activities from both the antagonists and the FBI in The Firm.)

Part Three

-Dark Moment Which Leads to the Final Battle:

The worst of the worst happens, but our hero/heroine has grown throughout the course of the story and is now ready to take on the antagonistic force. (Examples: in almost every romance, this is where boy loses girl, but then goes on to win her back; the oldest son of Mel Gibson’s character dies in The Patriot.)

Resolution & Aftermath:

The biggest scene in the story takes place, followed by the ending scene(s). (Example: Rocky defeats . . . well, depending on the number, you can pick your opponent.) =)

I hope this helps you in your own story-writing and saves your sanity in the process. And who knows? If you’re like me—and have a few dozen stories hidden in your files—it might be time to dust them off and see if we can get past that proverbial brick wall… 😉


Cathy Bryant’s first completed novel, TEXAS ROADS, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist. In 2010, Cathy added A PATH LESS TRAVELED to the Miller’s Creek novels, and is currently working on THE WAY OF GRACE, book three in the series. Cathy, a native Texan, recently yanked up her yellow-rose-of-Texas roots to be transplanted with her husband of thirty years to Northwest Arkansas near the world’s cutest grandson. You can find out more about Cathy at or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you, Cathy for sharing your secret with us. This was just the message I needed to hear today!


Readers: Cathy is giving away one copy of A Path Less Traveled for 25 or fewer comments and two eBook giveaways of the same book for more than 25 comments…so start commenting, asking questions, discussing problems in your WIP…you name it, let’s hear it!

*Enter your email in a safe format by 5/21/12 12:00PM ET if you want to be considered. The winner will be announced next Sunday.*


15 thoughts on “How Story Structure Saved My Sanity (and My Writing Career!) by Cathy Bryant”

  1. Cathy, I will print out your directions, a great direct way to summarize how to write. I am glad those kids are finally out of the house giving you time to enrich us all. Thank you.

  2. Isn’t it amazing how a such a simple story structure can be so HARD to apply? It looks so obvious when you’re looking at someone else’s book/movie, but so elusive as I’m building my own story. Thanks for the help, Cathy. I shall keep trying.

  3. This may be the simplest, most concise guide to story structure I’ve ever seen — and thank you for it! No need to get bogged down overanalyzing a story down to its cellular level as long as we adhere to this basic skeleton. Excellent post, Cathy, and thanks for visiting us at the Scribes today.

  4. Structuring your story by major plot points and acts (or parts), just like you describe, Cathy, is indeed the best way to finish a novel, and give it consistency and clarity. This is great advice!

    I personally use a seven point plot structure, but it basically boils down to the exact same fundamental bits. They’re what make any story work, no matter the type or genre, or the writer’s denial. 😉

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone. Sorry I’m late to arrive, but hubby and I are spending the weekend at a mountain lake with some very dear friends, and just now was able to get on. Katy (& other scribes!), thanks so much for having me here today. Katy, I agree. It’s much easier to write a synopsis once you take time to get the story structure down.

    Kathye, you are so right. It’s so much easier to talk about story structure than apply it, but I’m always more pleased with the story when I keep writing until I can make it work! (Sometimes it takes a LOOOOONG time!) 😉

    Thanks for all the encouraging words, ladies. Hope the post is helpful! =)

  6. insights! love them… TY! Cathy ~
    and having read this, i def can see just such an outline , say , in Jane Austen’s Persuasion – my fave movie for your approved 2 hr review ..:)
    well done !
    and to have a chance at A Path Less Travelled in addition to these revelations? Wonderful!
    i’m all for that ! faithhopecherrytea at*gmail.*com
    FB friended…

  7. Thank you, Cathy. You have made it sound so simple, which of course it isn’t. This is very helpful and will help keep me on track.

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