The Math of Structure
The spreadsheet is based on a 100,000 words novel, although it is also broken down as far as 3,000 words later. Books are divided up into chapters, and for this story structure analysis we’ll say each chapter is a scene, and each chapter/scene is 2,000 words. With that point in mind we now have 100,000 words divided by 2,000 words for a total of 50 scenes.
One of the story structures we compare is the Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, who says that each of the major sections of a story (Beginning, Middle, and End) have Five Obligatory Scenes:
- Inciting Incident
- Progressive Complications
That means each section has at least 5 must have scenes or fifteen required scenes.
50 total scenes – 15 required scenes = 35 scenes left
In all ideal, perfect, story structures your beginning is 25% of your story, your middle is 50% of your story and your ending is the reminding 25%. Do all stories follow this strict layout? No. There are windows where certain scenes can fall without destroying the harmony and rhythm of your story. With this new information let’s look where we stand.
- Beginning = 25,000 words or 12 ½ scenes
- Middle = 50,000 words or 25 scenes
- End = 25,000 words or 12 ½ scenes
Does the mean you end your beginning in the middle of a scene? Of course not, but there is an acceptable window where your beginning ends, and your ending starts. Too long of a beginning and you will bore your readers, your story will drag, and the odds of someone buying your next book drops. Start your ending too soon and you have too long of a space to make the climax powerful and interesting.
Looking at the spreadsheet (click here to download) you’ll notice the stairs that starts with a single block on the left and moves up as it moves to the right. This represents the progressive complications, growing tension, and increasing intensity of your story. Each step builds your story and increase its interest to the reader. If your story fails to grow in interest/intensity, your readers will stop reading.
Looking at the spreadsheet you’ll notice the beginning, middle, and end (Acts 1, 2, and 3). You’ll also notice that the middle is divided into two parts (Act 2A and Act 2B) with the midpoint at the 50% mark. This is the turning point of the entire story. Where Larry Brooks, of Storyfix.com, says the Hero goes from The Response into The Attack portion of the story.
The spreadsheet breaks down the story into 8ths and percentages points to illustrate the ideal story structure layout. This by no means says your story scenes must fall exactly into each spot. What it does tell you is where the ideal locations of you story should fall in order to be of the greatest impact. If you’re writing only for yourself and you don’t care about getting published, then break all the rules. But if you’re desire is to get published and get paid for writing, you might want to consider using the spreadsheet as a guide when editing your story, so it falls within the guideposts of the spreadsheet.
Note on embedded spreadsheet vs. downloadable excel spreadsheet:
The embedded spreadsheet shown below lack a few diagonal borders because of the limited ability to show they online. The downloadable version contain the diagonal borders which represent the upward progression of tension and complications in the story. It’s not that important but I used it to help me identify the places that the story should have extra tension and complications.
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