The process of writing a book (3/6): Structure is everything

Our brains have a way to process information—through stories with a particular structure. This has been tested for a long time (since information was shared through memorized stories), so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

There are two structures you have to keep in mind. The first one, the classic three act structure. The other one is the Hero’s Journey.

Your goal at this point is to come up with a structure that mixes these two. If you mix them, you’ve got a winner.

Break the story into three parts: beginning, middle, and end.

There are different ways to make this three acts—it depends on the kind of message you want to spread.

“In the first act, you get your hero up a tree. The second act, you throw rocks at him. For the third act, you let him down.” —George Abbott

The universal one is to break it in past, present, and future. Where you were, where you are now and where you want to go. It always works.

However, there are many ways to structure a story. For example, you can use Nancy Duarte’s structure which is basically the repetition of what it is and what it could be. Or if you’re working on a disruptive story, my favorite structure is one from Marshall Ganz:

  1. The story of self: What’s your story?
  2. The story of us: Why your story is our story? (This is the juicy one)
  3. The story of now: Why it matters now, and not tomorrow?

Important: start at end, with the climax of the story. Then continue at the beginning. Do not start at the beginning. What you want here is to bring excitement into the story and then work you way backwards to the beginning.

“If your Climax is not embedded in your Inciting Incident, you don’t have an Inciting Incident.” —Steven Pressfield

Once you have your three-act structure worked out, now it’s time to work on the hero’s journey and mix the two structures. Steven Pressfield in his book explains thoroughly the hero’s journey:

  1. Hero starts in Ordinary World.
  2. Hero receives Call to Adventure.
  3. Hero rejects Call.
  4. Hero meets Mentor. Mentor gives hero courage to accept Call.
    (If you’re following along, this is Luke on the evaporator farm. Luke finds R2D2, Luke uncorks distress hologram from Princess Leia, Luke takes R2 to Obi-Wan Kenobi.)
  5. Hero crosses Threshold, enters Special World.
  6. Hero encounters enemies and allies, undergoes ordeal that will serve as his Initiation.
  7. Hero confronts Villain, acquires Treasure.
  8. The Road Back. Hero escapes Special World, trying to “get home.”
  9. Villains pursue Hero. Hero must fight/escape again.
  10. Hero returns home with Treasure, reintegrates into Ordinary World, but now as a changed person, thanks to his ordeal and experiences on his journey.

At this point your book should start getting in shape. Now the only thing you have to do is to fill the gaps.
PS. Most of this information is from the book Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. You should read it.