Structuring your Story
A good theme the perfect foundation for a story, but how do you deliver this to the audience? What plot structures and devices do we use and recommend?

Hey guys! 

I figured given what we posted up about Theme last week, this update would be a good time to speak about -

*takes massive breath*

The Structure of a Story

Though Pixar's 'Setting a story in motion' didn't work out for me, there is one structure of storytelling that I have found to be incredibly helpful when plotting Glim.
It's the seven act structure that I learned when attending Improv classes, often referred to as the Story Spine. It goes like this:


The key here is that every story point hinges upon the previous point. You can always tell a bad story when the beats are linked by 'and' rather than 'because' or 'but'.

Story beats linked by ands have no causal link to one another. However, stories linked by becauses are like rows of dominoes - each event that happens triggers the next event.

These becauses can be extended indefinitely, and often are. So long as each one relates to the because before and after, your story should still feel solid and work!

If you think about your favourite films, you'll find that most will fit into this structure pretty seamlessly! 

Bear in mind that this structure, when applied to a film as a whole, will tell the story in very broad strokes - I'll talk more about drilling down into story details later!

(*Spoilers* for A Goofy Movie and Ratatouille incoming!)

The Goofy Movie

Once upon a time...

There was a boy called Max, who lived with a wellmeaning but eccentric father. Max was kind of embarrassed by his overbearing father and the two didn't understand one another very well.

And every day...

Max would go to school but not get up the courage to talk to his crush, Roxanne

Until one day...

Max did something amazing that got her attention and landed him a date, watching the big Powerline concert together. Unfortunately it also landed him in detention.

And because of that...

Goofy was called by the principle, became convinced Max was becoming a delinquent, and scheduled an emergency father son trip to get him back on track

And because of that...

Max would have to miss his date with Roxanne for the trip. However, to stop her finding another date, he told her he was going to the Powerline concert in LA and would wave to her onstage.

And because of that...

While on the road, Max tried to change the Map to go to the concert rather than Lake Destiny without his father seeing

And because of that...

When Goofy checked the map, he realised he was being duped

And because of that...

Max and he had a big fight which resulted in the car careening off a cliff, and into a river

And because of that... 

They became trapped on the car roof together and were forced to confront their feelings

Until finally... 

Max told Goofy about what was really happening in his life, about his crush on Roxanne and the lie. Once Max let him in, Goofy decided to help him achieve his goal.

And ever since that day... 

Goofy and Max's relationship has improved, and the two have found it easier to relate to one another


Ratatouille

Once upon a time...

There was a rat called Remy, who loved to cook

And every day...

He would watch the cooking channel and dream, but be told he would never be able to be a cook, because he is a rat.

Until one day...

He and his family was thrown out of the cottage they were staying in and washed up in Paris!

And because of that...

Remy made his way to his favourite restaurant, the one he always watched on tv

And because of that...

He can't resist trying to cook, and improves the restaurant's soup, but is seen doing so by Linguine, an incompetent new hire.

And because of that...

The staff are alerted - to them, rats are disgusting pests. Linguine is tasked with capturing and killing the rat, but can't bring himself to.

And because of that...

The two instead make an alliance - Remy will help Linguine cook in the restaurant by hiding underneath his hat. That way, Remy gets to cook despite being a rat, and Linguine keeps his job.

And because of that...

The standard of the food at the restaurant goes through the roof, attracting the attention of Anton Ego, a well regarded food critic, who wants to review 'Linguine's' food.

And because of that...

The two decide that Remy deserves the credit for his work, despite possible predjudice, and Linguine admits to the staff that the rat is the real chef.

And because of that...

A lot of the staff leave, but Remy's family, Linguine and Collette stick it out with Remy, and help him to create the best dish he can for Anton.

Until finally...

Ego tastes the dish.... And is blown away. He reassesses the way he judges the merit of a chef and writes a review praising Remy as a cook.

And ever since that day...

Remy has worked in his own restaurant, which is very popular and is frequented by Anton Ego

Fractals are Fun!

These are the broad strokes of the story. What it's worth remembering about story structure (and honestly, one of the coolest things about it) is that it is fractal by nature!

Essentially what I mean is that each of the seven story beats can itself be broken down into story beats, each of which can themselves be broken down into story beats, each of which themselves - etcetera etcetera!

So let's take and break down - __________________________________________________________________________________

Once upon a time...

There was a boy called Max, who lived with a wellmeaning but eccentric father. Max was kind of embarrassed by his overbearing father and the two didn't understand one another very well.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Within this one beat....

Once upon a time

There was a boy called Max who lived with his overbearing father, and had a crush on a girl called Roxanne

And every day

He would be woken by his dad bursting into his room

Until one day

It was his friend PJ ringing him, asking where he was that woke him up

And because of that

He realised today was the day he was enacting his plan to get noticed by Roxanne - but he was late!

And because of that

He was in even more of a rush than usual, anxious to escape the questions of his dad

And because of that

He burst out of the house as fast as he could, and ran all the way, thinking about how things would change after today!

Until finally 

He made it to school just on time to find PJ waiting for him

Even within this, I could continue to break down each of these points. For example, the film opens with Max having a nightmare where he and Roxanne are spending time together - until he transforms into a hideous version of his father, Goofy. It's a great way to set things up and show Max's desires and his feelings about his dad.

These story structures are surprisingly difficult to write, though. Trust us. They're crazy hard! If you find yourself stuck, a great tip is to try writing the structure backwards.
Start with and ever since that day and write the point of your story, the big resolution. Then step back to Until finally and so on and so forth.

For some reason, this makes it easier for our brains to find the causal links. I usually start constructing story spines end first now: it's just that good.

If your story structure still feels linked up when you read it backwards, you did a good job. If it feels nonsensical, you have a problem somewhere along the chain.

 When it comes to comics and books, you have the awesome narrative device of the page turn to take advantage of!  

This is a great way to create tension or reveal something shocking or suprising! 

I really like geeking out about fractal story structures in regards to the story structure of an overall book, a section within that book, and each page itself. 

You can see the structure playing out within the page above, and with a lot of pages in The Girl and the Glim. 

Once upon a time there was a girl who wasn't concentrating on some boxes she was carrying
Until
a picture from one of the boxes blew away thanks to her carelessness
And because of that
it blew into the road
And because of that
it hit a cyclist in the face
Until finally
the cyclist crashed

With comic pages, I often simplify the structure a little. I lose the and every day, as the rhythm established at the beginning of stories isn't often present page to page, and have also left out and ever since that day, which is more like the resolving message you leave your audience with. Artists/writers will often want to leave the story of a page feeling unresolved to encourage readers to turn to the next one!

Story Structure in The Glim and Witch of the West

I spent the last week working on the Glim story for book two, which I am now happy to say has its overarching seven act structure pinned down. I'm ready to dig into the details on it more! I will refrain from showing you to save you from spoilers, but it feels good to have that nailed down.

I can, however, show the The Witch of the West's seven act structure.

If you remember, a couple of posts ago Mike and I spoke about the Creators for Creators Comic Grant. It's a large grant which is available to anyone with a story and a desire to make it. If Mike and I could land it, we would be able to take a full year without freelance to work on personal projects such as The Witch of the West, Ravenking, and of course The Girl and The Glim!

Five pages of WotW are what it takes to send a submission!

I already know the overarching story of and theme - You already have everything you need to be the person you want to be.

But how to know what to put in my five pages? This is where I use the seven act structure to help me!

My thinking is that if I tell a story that you can follow in its entirety through these five pages but leave the end on a note of suspense, it will give readers a good grounding in the characters and world, but leave them (hopefully) wanting to read more.

Therefore, I choose a part of the story where the characters have room to be themselves and then try to create a super simple seven act story I can fit into five pages.

You can see above my thought process. I began just knowing they would be on the road and get attacked by bandits. Then I gave my five pages a mini theme to unite everything and help it feel harmonious. Once the theme felt good, I pulled the other story points out of it, trying to create something that would be fun visually, and show off the magical side of the world.

In terms of the characters themselves, I gave them an obvious aim that could be achieved or scuppered by the end of the five pages. I am hoping that a magical fight will give them all room to show off their quirks and personalities!

The eye candy part!

I see you've made it to the eye candy portion of the post!
I hope that you've enjoyed our notes on story so far, and find them useful.

I love worldbuilding, and I've been doing some on WotW to get the groundwork for the magic system feeling good and plausible.

Also, if anyone has a better name than 'Gunwands', let me know! :D

The metal gunlike portion of the wand, in this world, is mainly there for the protection of the wand, and to assist with the aiming of them. They help the tip of the wand not to be battered about by winds and provide an easier grip for the user!

Wands are not inherently magical in themselves, but channel and direct the user's own power so it can be harnessed. 

The story revolves around three characters - a clumsy young witch with big aspirations, a thief who thanks to a curse is unable to lie, and a shape shifting old man. These are the designs which I am most drawn to at the moment, though they may change as I continue developing the story!

Realtimeboards

Mike is almost there with his structure for Raven King but he's really feeling the struggle involved in tying down events which link with one another while also adhering to the main theme. It's a tough nut to crack!

In our previous post we recommended Conceptboard as a great tool to help visualise your story beats and to pin down the scattered thoughts that can swirl around your head when you're trying to pull together a story.

Unfortunately in the time since let you know about it they have changed the limitations on their free accounts which will have an impact on how much story you're able to cram in there. They now limit each board to a total of 50 items. That's barely a story introduction!

We have (briefly) looked into alternatives and Mike has found RealtimeBoard to be a good alternative. It's very similar to Conceptboard but has some interesting new features.

Doig has been migrating his story notes over to the new board, and using Google Sheets as a pasting board has helped speed up his process.

If you're keen to use Realtimeboards, they also offer Templates for established formats such as agile time management etc. - but what excites us the most is the ability to make and re-use templates that you can create yourself! This means if you have a preferred way of working, or layouts that resonate more with you, you can set those up too!

Coda Announcement!

In other news, Doig has been colouring on pages for a recently announced Boom Studios book series, Coda! It's a dystopian fantasy series set in a world where magic has dried up and the inhabitants are still coming to terms with its' scarcity and disappearance.

Doig is working with one of our favourite artists, Matias Bergara, and he's been learning a whole heap ton about colour working under his direction. Matias often aims to find the unexpected in his art which gives his work so much vibrancy and life! NDA's stop us from showing you any pages but we really wish we could because they are beautiful.

Next Time

I'll be answering JP's Ask Midge Anything question from the last update and showing some WotW thumbs! Meanwhile Doig will exploring his RK characters through Concept Art. We'll also be discussing comic page layouts and should have some cool resources for you guys.

If you know any budding storytellers out there, give them a hug from us. It's hard, but we're all in this together right?

Stay Adventuresome!

~ Doig & Swift

PS. If our methods don't work for you, our friend Ottler recommends this story structure method from Dan Harmon. 

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