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You don’t have to lay out your story structure in advance (though some writers do, particularly screenwriters). Understanding how a story is put together can however be very valuable.
Every story has a beginning, middle and an end.
This is where we are introduced to the characters. We find out about the world in which they live. It is also where our plot is introduced. Where are your characters going? What do they want? Your story should start exploring these questions as soon as possible.
Have you ever read a story or seen a movie that was really slow to get started? That’s what will happen to your readers if you don’t introduce your plot at the beginning!
The Middle Bit
This is where most of your story happens. You should be thinking about: what will happen at the end while you write the middle bit, how you’re going to lead up to the climax at the finish, keeping your readers guessing and perhaps in suspense.
The BIG FINISH!
You’ve introduced your characters and the plot at the start of your story … you’ve kept your readers guessing as they read through the middle of your story … and now you’re at the end!
This isn’t called the BIG FINISH for nuthin! Unless you want your readers feeling cheated at the end of the story … you have to give them a grand finale … a big finish … a satisfying end to their story. The character catches the murderer in a big car chase, or the detective uncovers the murderer in a dramatic confrontation. Perhaps your hero finally gets the love of her or his life!
The big finish is what your readers have been waiting for, don’t disappoint them!
It is important to note, that the big finish doesn’t neccesarily have to be dramatic. It is not always appropriate to ‘ramp up’ the end of the story. Some novels finish quietly, with the character perhaps accepting their lot in life, or perhaps being given hope or redemption.
A note on foreshadowing
A crucial part of effective structure is forshadowing. Imagine you have a character at the end of your story that pulls a gun on the bad guys and saves the day. Sounds ok? Unless of course this is the first time you have mentioned the hero using a gun in your story! Your readers will be asking: where did he get the gun from? How does he know how to use a gun?
Foreshadowing is preparing your reader for something like this. For example, you might mention early in the story that the hero shot rabbits on his farm as a boy. Or perhaps he’s a retired cop? Foreshadowing helps to ensure your readers won’t be distracted as they read, it makes your story more credible.
There are worksheets related to this topic in the writing resources page
Find a writing exercise to warm up first before you begin to write your story.