Seven Point Story Structure

Philip HarrisRunning, Stories, Writing, Writing AdviceLeave a Comment

Fantastic run yesterday.

Our route took us from False Creek, along English Bay, up through a fog shrouded Stanley Park, across the Lions Gate Bridge, back down to the seawall to the little pier at Dundarave and back again. The weather was perfect for running and I wish I’d had a camera with me. If I had I would have got some fantastic shots of the mountains rising up out of a layer of very low cloud.

That’s a long way though, either 28 or 29km depending on which gadget you believe so I spent the afternoon alternately reading Justin Cronin’s vampire apocalypse novel, The Passage, and lying on the bed thinking about the plot of The Ghost Smuggler. I’ve been gearing up to restart my rewrite and last week I decided to try the Seven Point Story Structure that’s often talked about by Dan Wells. The results I got by going through that exercise have made a huge difference and reignited my enthusiasm for the rewrite.

I heard about this system on an episode of Writing Excuses and followed that up by watching the YouTube videos of a presentation Dan gave about the system at Life, the Universe, and Everything (you can find the first video here).

I highly recommend you go and listen to the podcast and watch the videos (and read Dan’s books) but, briefly, there are seven steps that take you from the beginning of your story to the end.

  • Hook  – This is where you set up your story, it’s the starting state of the characters and world. Often this will be the opposite of the end state.
  • Plot Turn 1 – The “call to adventure” – the event that kicks off the story.
  • Pinch 1 – Pressure is applied to the characters to force them into action.
  • Mid-point – This is the point where the characters move from reaction to action – they stop running and decide to solve the problem rather than trying to escape it.
  • Pinch 2 – Even more pressure is applied to the characters – things become as dire as possible.
  • Plot Turn 2 – At this point, the characters get the last thing they need to be able to succeed.
  • Resolution – The characters succeed!

Having listened to the podcast a couple of times and watched the videos, this structure seemed promising. I’ve been battling with the plot of The Ghost Smuggler, trying to refine and improve the rewrite, so I decided to put the story into the Seven Point Story Structure and see what happened.

I sat down with a notebook, labeled a page for each of the steps and wrote out the salient plot points on each one. I also wrote down any questions that occurred to me as I was filling in each step – and there were lots.

At the basic level, the plot fits very well into that structure but the exercise exposed some weak points, generally centered around the parts of the novel I wasn’t happy with. In particular, the scenes that form Pinch 1 have always been one of my least favourite parts of the book – the lead in seems pretty strong but I’ve never been very satisfied with what comes afterwards. There were also some spots where it felt like something was missing.

Once I’d laid out the seven points of my story I spent some time thinking about each one, trying to improve it and answer some of those questions. Ethel the Muse must have been paying attention because very quickly I came up with a stronger version of Plot Turn 1 (which I strengthened even further while lying on the bed yesterday), answered a couple of critical questions and added what is hopefully a very interesting element to the overall plot.

Encouraged by those results, I’ve continued to mull over the details of the plot in the context of that structure and I can definitely see the novel getting stronger. Today, I’m going to take my experiment even further and put together a chapter by chapter outline of The Ghost Smuggler. I’ve always been a “discovery writer” so I’m not going to go into too much detail but I think having a clearer picture of the overall direction of each chapter will help me weed out some of the bad stuff (and layer in more of the good stuff).

Once that’s done I’ll be out of reasons not to continue the rewrite.

The Lions Gate Bridge

The Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver

[The article Seven Point Story Structure by Philip Harris originally appeared on Solitary Mindset]


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