6 Classic Story Structures – Writers Write


On this publish we take a look at six basic story constructions from all over the world.

These days, it looks like there are dozens of approaches for plotting and structuring your story. Most fashions are so complicated that you should learn whole books (or a sequence of books), attend costly seminars, and spend hours finding out to get the cling of the fundamentals for every mannequin.

Worst-case state of affairs, it seems the flamboyant new narrative mannequin is simply an ineffectual novelty. I do know, as a result of I’m the form of nerd who enjoys exploring these fashions in depth, so I can discover the commonalities throughout varied fashions. I attempt to apply what works and discard the dross. My strategy, nonetheless, has taken a toll on my time and pockets.

Nicely, I’ve a deal with for these of you preferring issues which are free, accessible, and perennial. On this publish, we’ll take a look at six narrative approaches which have had a deep, huge, and abiding impression and attraction for 1000’s of years. And, better of all, every of those narrative fashions is comparatively easy.

I’ll even run a single premise by means of all six fashions so you may see how every emphasizes completely different narrative components and, thus, provides you better perception concerning the story. So as to add one other degree of intrigue, I’ll wait to disclose which story borrowed the premise till the top of the publish. Attempt to guess what the story is earlier than then!

So, with out additional ado, let’s dive into these basic story constructions.

6 Classic Story Structures 

1. Aristotle’s Three-Act Construction

Origins: The Poetics, by Aristotle

Classic Instance: Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles

Structural Overview:

Act 1- Pity

(Tying- all through the primary half of the story)

Act 2-Concern

(Untying- starting on the midpoint, persevering with til the top)

Act 3- Catharsis

Step-by-step Breakdown:

Act 1- The writer introduces a single protagonist and offers us a motive to ‘pity’ or take care of them. The writer additionally begins tying a story knot and making life more and more tough for the protagonist.

Act 2- The protagonist’s overarching aim is launched. The author creates worry within the viewers by making clear the stakes—what the character stands to realize, by attaining their aim, in addition to what they threat dropping ought to they fail. Ideally, the protagonist dangers every little thing they’ve already for the one factor they maintain most valuable. Right here the protagonist begins proactively attempting to untie the Gordian knot that pesky author has manufactured from their life.

Act III– By the top of the final act, we discover out if the protagonist has succeeded or failed to realize their aim. Understanding how the primary battle is resolved should result in a satisfying feeling of catharsis or emotional launch for the viewers.


Act 1- Pity: A businessman takes his untrue spouse on a searching journey overseas. He botches the journey instantly by fleeing a charging animal through the first hunt.

Act 2- Concern: The businessman’s spouse cheats on him but once more with their searching information. Determined now, the businessman dangers all of it by pursuing extraordinarily harmful sport: a wounded lion. (Discover the writer has tied one heck of a knot for the character to unravel, which he dutifully units about within the useless center of the story)

Act- 3 Catharsis: All of a sudden, the businessman finds he can re-contextualize his worry. His terror turns right into a thrill, and he boldly pursues his quarry. His spouse, nonetheless, sees her husband has reclaimed his self-respect and shoots him earlier than he can end the hunt, and, presumably, go away her.

Structural Theme:

‘How will you persevere in the face of life’s trials?’

2. Chiastic Construction

Origins: The Torah (or Previous Testomony)

Classic Examples: The Creation and Fall; Noah’s Flood; The E-book of Job. 

Structural Overview:

Beat 1a – Life earlier than

Beat 2a – The protagonist loses every little thing

Beat 3a – Issues go from dangerous to worse

Beat 4 – The protagonist stays steadfast/takes motion

Beat 3b – Issues go from worse to higher

Beat 2b – Character will get every little thing again—plus extra

Beat 1b – Life after

Step-by-step Breakdown

Beat 1a – The protagonist resides a affluent life.

Beat 2a – Outdoors forces rob the protagonist of every little thing they’ve.

Beat 3a – Even their family members flip their again on the protagonist.

Beat 4 – The protagonist has a second of apotheosis and an epiphany and acts accordingly.

Beat 3b – Due to the protagonist’s steadfast motion, slowly however absolutely, issues get higher.

Beat 2b – Every little thing they beloved is restored to them tenfold, placing their doubters to disgrace.

Beat 1b – The protagonist lives/or dies in a spot of unshakeable religion and contentment.


Beat 1a–A businessman has all of it: he’s admired, good-looking, wealthy, and has married a wonderful spouse he’s head over heels in love with.

Beat 2a–His spouse cheats on him at each alternative. Individuals now pity him, the stress deteriorates his seems to be, and his spouse spends cash past their means. Worst of all, she confirms she doesn’t love him.

Beat 3a–His spouse flaunts her infidelities and taunts him by telling him he’s too cowardly to divorce her.

Beat 4–Whereas the businessman is on a searching journey along with his spouse meant to win again her love, he discovers one thing else: his personal braveness and, thus, self-respect.

Beat 3b–The businessman behaves so bravely, that he wins his spouse’s begrudging admiration and care, as she worries for his security on the damaging hunt. He resolves to divorce her, restoring every little thing he has misplaced.

Beat 2b–Even the person who cuckolded the businessman is overwhelmed with respect and cheers the businessman on through the hunt.

Beat 1b–The spouse, determined to reassert herself, shoots her husband, killing him immediately, however he dies full of pleasure within the current and hope for the longer term. 

Structural Theme:

‘By divine grace and aid, you can reverse and redeem your fate.’ 

3. Kishotenketsu

Origins: South-East Asian poetic and narrative traditions

Classic Instance: Unusual Tales from a Chinese language Studio, by Pu Songling

Structural Overview:

Ki- Intro

Sho- Growth

Ten- Twist

Ketsu- Decision

Step-by-step Breakdown:

Ki- The author introduces the characters and setting.

Sho- The viewers will get a greater sense of who the characters are by watching them go about their day by day lives.

Ten- An sudden occasion happens which re-contextualizes every little thing that has occurred till now or sends the character’s life spinning off wildly in an unexpected course, or each without delay.

Ketsu- The characters reply to this sudden occasion as greatest they’ll, and we briefly glimpse how each the characters and their circumstances won’t ever be the identical.


Ki- A wealthy, good-looking younger couple is on trip overseas.

Sho- Every single day they get pleasure from searching unique sport collectively.

Ten- After a hunt takes a flip for the more severe, revealing the husband’s cowardice, the spouse reveals her beforehand hidden disdain for her husband by dishonest with their information.

Ketsu- In a determined try to regain his spouse’s respect, the husband goes on a particularly harmful hunt, however finally ends up rediscovering his self-respect as a substitute. The spouse, realizing what this would possibly imply for her, shoots her husband whereas he’s misplaced within the hunt’s thrill.

Structural Theme:

‘Just when things feel settled, life can take strange, unexpected turns.’ 

4. Mythic Construction (Monomyth)

Origins: Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth; Dan Harmon’s simplified Story Circle.

Classic Instance: The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Structural Overview/ Step-by-step Breakdown:

Hero: We meet the protagonist and glimpse their on a regular basis life, recognizing that one thing is lacking; they don’t seem to be complete.

Name: An incident happens which forces the protagonist to confront the truth of what they need or want, whereas additionally giving them the chance to pursue that want is.

Departure: The protagonist leaves their acquainted setting or circumstances, setting out in pursuit of what they want.

Trials: The protagonist faces and overcomes more and more tough obstacles between them and their aim.

Discovery: The protagonist finds the item of their need.

Ordeal: They need to pay a fantastic value to say what they need.

Homecoming: The protagonist returns to the place they started, their authentic setting or circumstances.

Transformation: Now, nonetheless, they’ve been modified by their journey, and this transformation in them spills out, altering their setting, circumstances, and even the encircling folks.


Hero: A wealthy, good-looking businessman lives a lifetime of ease and luxury along with his lovely spouse.

Name: He suspects his spouse has fallen out of affection with him and plans a searching journey—and journey—hoping it is going to assist them reconnect.

Departure: They go away for Africa.

Trials: The businessman botches his first hunt and his spouse sleeps with their information.

Discovery: He decides he should do one thing courageous to win again his spouse’s love and respect.

Ordeal: He units out on an exceptionally harmful hunt for a wounded lion.

Homecoming: In the course of the hunt, the person finds his terror has turned into a thrill. He regains his self-respect and contemplates life with out his spouse.

Transformation: On the peak of the businessman’s joyful epiphany, his spouse shoots him, in order that he dies blissful. His bravery conjures up the searching information whereas chastening and humbling his spouse.

Structural Theme:

‘What do you want and how will you use it to vary the world? 

5. Fairy-story Construction

Origins: Numerous Folklorists from all over the world.

Classic Instance: The collected works of the Brother’s Grimm, Charles Perrault, Andrew Lang, and plenty of, many extra.

Structural Overview/Step-by-step Breakdown:

As soon as there was… the author presents the protagonist and the setting.

And daily… we see them going about their day by day life.

Till someday… one thing occurs that throws their life out of steadiness.

And due to that… they react to the incident, attempting to revive steadiness by the best route potential.

And so… their first try inevitably fails, however they struggle once more, albeit taking a riskier strategy.

Till lastly… they’re pressured to make a determined, final-ditch effort to resolve their downside, resulting in success or failure, for good or ailing.

And ever since that day… we glimpse what the protagonist’s new regular seems to be like now.


As soon as there was… a wealthy, good-looking businessman.

And daily… he doted on his lovely spouse.

Till someday… he found his spouse not beloved him.

And due to that… he tried to reconnect together with her over an adventurous searching journey.

And so… they set out collectively, however his spouse is fast to guarantee him she seems to be down on him an excessive amount of to like him ever once more.

Till lastly… he proves his price to himself and to his spouse whereas on a daring hunt.

And ever since that day… for the temporary the rest of his life, the businessman is full of pleasure and hope for the longer term.

Structural Theme:

 ‘What can you do to better yourself? What should you do to avoid harm?’ 

6. Fable Construction

Origins: Aesop’s Fables

Classic Instance: The Fox and The Crow

Structural Overview/ Step-by-step Breakdown:

A Character behaves correctly or foolishly

They reap the rewards or face the implications for his or her actions

Both a personality or the narrator states the lesson


A businessman marries a wonderful, however egocentric and capricious lady.

She spends all his cash and cheats on him continuously, ultimately killing him when she fears he would possibly lastly go away her.

No quantity of items or blessings can fulfill the actually grasping; as soon as they’ve a style, they may do something to carry onto their wishes.

Theme: ‘Do this; Don’t do that.

The Last Phrase

Strive experimenting with every of those basic story constructions: define one story utilizing every of the constructions, then write a single draft primarily based in your insights from all of the completely different outlines. Or define one story utilizing every construction, then write a draft for every one. You’ll be astonished at how a lot you find out about your story, your strategy to writing, and simply how various our varied narrative traditions actually are!

P.S. The instance story I used was Hemingway’s good piece: ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.’

Prime Tip: Discover out extra about our workbooks and on-line programs in our store.

 by Oliver Fox.

Extra Posts From Oliver:

  1. The 4 Pillars Of Magic Realism
  2. On Plot-Pushed vs Character-Pushed Tales
  3. Writers Speak 9 | Journey To The West
  4. On Ghosts & How To Write About Them
  5. The 4 Pillars Of Science Fiction
  6. Writers Speak 6 | Fantasy Sub-Genres
  7. 10 Classic Fantasy Tropes & How To Enliven Them
  8. Writers Speak 3 | Star Wars
  9. 3 Takeaways For Writers From David Foster Wallace

Prime Tip: Discover out extra about our workbooks and on-line programs in our store.

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