Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Story Bones: Hilari Bell's Structure Points

Last week I examined the story bones of Sabriel, by Garth Nix. This week I'm taking a more theoretical approach, summarizing Hilari Bell's writing tips on story structure points. Comparison with the Sabriel post will show parallels.


Organizational note: Bell grouped her structure points in pairs; that's why only every other structure point has a link.


Establishing Shot

MC's ordinary life; hints at character flaws and conflicts. Must be relevant to rest of story (so if MC spirited away into fantasy world, spending a lot of time on his/her school life doesn't optimize page use*).

*In hindsight, this is why the May Bird series (Jodi Lynn Anderson) was disappointing - because the reader got invested in May's mundane life and then it got taken away.

Inciting Incident

Primary goal introduced. Has been otherwise known as "call to action".

Rising Action 1

MC makes a plan to confront main problem, and begins to implement that plan.

Change of Direction 1

Plan falls apart, and the MC must use different tactics/strategy to resolve the problem. Bell makes a useful distinction between an obstacle and a plot twist: the obstacle doesn't require the MC to change directions, while the plot twist does.

Rising Action 2

The middle. Internal and external conflicts both. To keep things interesting, the author must mercilessly throw problems at the MC, perhaps even bringing in the villain's direct involvement. The MC faces doubts. This is probably the segment with the most room for satisfying variation.


Escalation of stakes. MC now faces real possibility of having everything crash and burn. I envision this part as a conscious decision (cross Rubicon v. cross an unguarded border), so probably done when the MC has a chance, however brief, to catch his/her breath.

Leadup to Climax

Short and intense. Sacrifices happen. Side plots get resolved, allies gather, everything focuses on the main goal. Bell's image: a train going uphill one click at a time.

Dark Moment

Something goes wrong, big time. The MC's victory thrown into question.


Character development and external plotline intersect. MC may make a sacrifice (for anything less than his/her life, Bell advises, go through with it or else risk cheapening the victory) and difficult decisions (choosing between two wrongs). However things turn out, the problem is resolved.


Wrapup/fallout/release of tension. May involve brief timeskip.


Use these notes as you see fit.

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