How Story Structure Saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb

Years ago, I came up with this presentation for a local writing group and blog. Since then, I’ve had tons of requests to share it again. So I’m posting it here for all of my K&T friends.

I love writing, but I hate plotting. I’m much more comfortable having no idea what’s going to happen, writing out of order, then putting all the pieces together like a puzzle. Of course this means tons of revisions and time. So, to increase my productivity, I’ve read every craft book ever written and taken online plotting classes. And while I’d still rather wing the writing, one of my favorite devices is Anne Lamott’s story structure mnemonic.

From A to E, it’s short and easy to remember. For those of you who don’t know it, I’ll give a short re-cap.

Action (which includes the inciting incident), Background (backstory, which is now woven throughout the story), Conflict (goals, motivations, and hindrances), Development (protagonist’s journey) and End–parts 1 & 2 (crisis and resolution). Since I’m also a strong visual learner, I’ve come up with a visual representation of Ms. Lamott’s device, with an added prologue (because I love prologues, especially in stories where the heroine is a four-year old with a vivid imagination).

And this is how Ms. Lamott’s Story Structure saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb.

PROLOGUEMVC-008S

Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wanted to play “Save the Lamb from the Evil Witch.” Except she didn’t have anyone to play with. So, with a smile and a cookie, she asked her twin brother, the Knight, “Will you play with me?”

He responded with a mouth filled with chocolate chips, “Will there be fighting?”

“Yes,” she said. “With swords.”

He smiled. “I’m in!”

ACTION

MVC-004S 2

“We have to hurry,” the Princess said. “We must save the Lamb from the Evil Witch who lives on the other side of the dark mountain. But first we need to find the unicorn.”

“Do we kill the unicorn?” the Knight asked.

“No. We feed the unicorn some magic acorns. Then she will tell us how to defeat the witch.”

“Okay!” The Knight grabbed his sword. “Let’s go.”

CONFLICT

MVC-001S

Once the Princess and the Knight got to the magic forest, the Knight said, “It’s dark and scary. Let’s feed the unicorn and get out of here.”

“First we have to find the fairies who will give us the magic acorns.”

He raised his sword high. “Let’s do it.”

“We can’t just ask the fairies for the acorns.”

“Why not? And when do I use my sword?”

The Princess sighed. “The fairies will have three riddles for us to answer, then we have to attend the magical fairy feast where they will try to poison us. But we can get an antidote for the poison from a talking rabbit who will betray us, but then become our mentor and guide and be redeemed.”

DEVELOPMENT

MVC-002S

“I don’t understand,” the Knight said. “How come there’s so much talking? Where’s the action? When do I get to fight something?”

“After we get away from the fairies and the rabbit and find the unicorn, you’ll have to slay the dragon.”

“Whoa!” he said with a huge grin. “There’s a dragon?”

“Yes,” she said. “But don’t touch his gold. It’s enchanted.”

“Just as long as I can use my sword. Now let’s go find those fairies, slay the dragon, feed the unicorn, and save the lamb from the evil queen!”

END/CRISIS

MVC-005S

“I’m done.” The Knight leaned against the barn door. “There was no dragon, no fighting, and I have a headache from all this backstory.”

The Princess started to cry. “I thought you wanted to play with me?”

“I wanted to use my sword. Not talk for three hours.”

The Princess stomped her foot. “But you promised!”

“Whatever.” The Knight shrugged and walked away. “I’m leaving to find the Good Queen. Maybe she has more cookies.”

 END/RESOLUTION

MVC-006S

The Princess and the Knight just couldn’t agree on how to proceed. Should he go play with Legos and find more cookies? Could she fight the fairies, dragon, and evil witch on her own?

Seeing no end to the conflict, the Good Queen (mommy) showed up with homemade brownies and lemonade (deus ex machina) and said, “I slayed the dragon, sent the fairies out to the garden, fed the unicorn, put the lamb down for a nap, and the evil witch is doing laundry. So all is well!”

“Long live the Good Queen!” yelled the Princess and the Knight.

So the Princess and the Knight ate brownies, took baths, and read books. Then they went to bed and ended their day with a Happily Ever After.

Now I’d love to know–do you plan your stories or do the wait-and-see? And if you plot everything out first, do you have a favorite structure? Since I’m fascinated by writers who know where their stories are going, I’d love to hear how you do it!

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.

About Sharon Wray

Sharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes novels of adventure, suspense and love for Sourcebooks. She's a wife, mother of twins, caretaker of Donut the One-Eyed Family Dog, and addicted to snapping photos and eating Oreos.

Posted on September 15, 2015, in Sharon Wray and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. This is the most darling blog I’ve ever read. Even your photographs told the story, Sharon! Just a fantastic, sweet tale–(even the differences between the male need for action and the female need for complex detail and in depth backstory.) Poor little knight.

    As you well know, I can’t plot my way out of a paper bag. If I think it up in advance it loses it’s magic, surprise and freshness. The good news is that when I shriek at a twist I never thought of until that second, the reader probably will be shrieking at that plot point too.

    I would like to requisition an Evil Witch to do MY laundry too…
    😉

    • Thank you, Sarah. I’m so glad you liked it.
      I wish that evil queen was still around. She left as soon as my kids turned into teens and left me with the smelliest laundry ever! LOL.

  2. Totally, totally adorable. I think I need some magic acorns…

  3. Sharon that is adorable and clever! Just priceless!

  4. Laughing so hard, Sharon. This is adorable. I want to know more about that double crossing rabbit! Such fantastic ideas one after one and great demonstration of the technique.

    XO

  5. THIS IS ADORABLE!!!! Way to go, Good Queen/mommy for saving the day!! Thanks for making me smile! Great job, Sharon! Xxxx

    • Thank you, Pintip! I’m so glad I made you smile. These photos, as old as they are, always make me laugh. It feels like yesterday that I took them. I regret that the cameras at that time had slow shutter speeds because I probably missed about two photos between those that I got. 🙂

  6. Adorable! Love those expressions and very clever of the Good Queen!…me I *try* to plot but alas, it always goes awry!

  7. Such a cute illustration of structure, Sharon. I love your deus ex machina. I *try* to do some advance plotting, but generally fail at it. I do find it helps to have a really good handle on my characters’ GMC, arc, wounds, etc.

    I still think about structure, but more in terms of what types of scenes I’m writing towards, rather than the specifics of what will happen in those scenes. My favorites for structure are Larry Brooks’ (Story Engineering), Michael Hauge, and Blake Snyder (Save the Cat). I kind of blend all three together. 😉

    • I love all of those plotting books/plans, Gwen. I also love Scene and Structure in the Dwight Swain book and Jack Bickham’s explanation.
      Since I started teaching myself how to plot, I can definitely see the time-saving benefit. But I also love the magic that comes with pantsing. 🙂

      • I LOVE Dwight Swain’s book. It’s still at the top of my list for overall writing books, and I use his Goal/Conflict/Disaster and Reaction/Dilemma/Decision format for most of my scenes/sequels.

  8. This has to be the cutest (on top of being informative) post I’ve ever seen or read. Loved it. Thanks so much for sharing. Now I’m going to read it a second time. It was that awesome!

  9. Thanks for a clear and concise explanation! I’m a pantser, get bored with plotting but this is easy to figure out.

  10. How cute! The Knight never got to use his sword, but he got brownies instead. I guess that was a fair trade.

    • He got to use his sword a lot during those years, but he also ate a ton of brownies. So I guess it all worked out for him! And the Princess still has her lamb — Lambie sits on top of her AP Physics book. 🙂

  11. Aww, Sharon! I’m smiling ear-to-ear! This was so marvelously adorbs. Long live Good Queen Mommy! 😀

    And I’m more of what I call a plotser–a plotter + pantser hybrid. I usually have the gist of the story, but then have to fill the holes with an abundance of word Spackle. 😉

    Wonderful post!!!

  12. Well, this post put a smile on my face this morning, Sharon. Too cute.

    I’m a panster through and through, and when I recently had to write a synopsis for a book not written, I wanted to say….They met. Stuff happened. There’s an HEA. I am trying to learn to plot a little, though. Great post!

  13. Adorable Sharon! Thank you and thanks for sharing those sweet pictures! I’m clearly in the minority here, but I’m mystified by the pantser. I must plot plot plot. I do discard quite a bit and things always change as I write. New characters appear etc. But I absolutely make the big decisions ahead of time. I spend months in my story in my head before I begin to write.

    • I am learning how to work like that, Carey. It really does help cut down on the revision time. But since it’s not my natural state, it’s still hard and stressful. I, too, spend months with the story in my head before I write.

      Honestly, both ways are hard. Then again, maybe this whole writing thing is hard and there is no easy answer. 🙂

  14. Adorable, Sharon! My daughter is just four months younger than your twins – huge happy birthday to them! – and I have pictures of her in the same princess costume. I LOVED the costume years. I miss the costume years…

    I’m a plotter, but the villain’s motivations almost always change when I hit the 75% point. Sometimes I don’t figure out their motive until that point. The book I’m writing now has the most complete plotting I’ve ever done, which scares me a bit. It’s very different knowing what’s going to happen next and why.

    • I miss the costume years too. I miss all the previous years (except for 13. Not sure I’d redo that year). And I agree that knowing what’s going to happen is a different way to write. But I’ll do anything to cut down on the time it takes to get these books written.

      And almost happy birthday to your daughter! Enjoy sophomore year because junior year is not a pretty place. 🙂

  15. Gorgeous photos and what a fantastic post! Thanks so much, Sharon. You made my day!

  16. Yes, this is the sweetest blog EVER, Sharon! Loved the Princess and the Knight, and even all that backstory 🙂 I’m a plotter, but also I’m coming to realize I’m also a bit of a pantser. I never know the end…but I wish I did!

  17. Loved this, Sharon! Made me laugh out loud in a public place! Great visuals for story structure. 😍

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    There is tricky way i found on the web. If you want to learn it too, just type in google: Ruthiezx’s method to earn online

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