Actually, let’s make that four…

Editor’s note: In the structure model I use, the Predicament has been removed as a story requirement. It’s such an inherent piece that I’ve never seen it missing when the Climax is presented clearly. No need to muddle things up!

Our entire lives we’ve been inundated with stories. Whether you prefer to read (which I’m assuming you do since you’re a writer), watch television, watch movies, or listen to your great-grandparents, we can’t escape that fact, nor would we want to! Stories are our lives. We know them so well that, as a consumer, we know when a story is working the way it should, and when it’s not.

It’s when it’s not that’s the hard part. Have you ever been to your mother’s house, time and again, where everything is exactly the same, time and again? Then suddenly, you head over for Sunday dinner and something is…off. You can’t put your finger on it, but there’s something missing. So, you search, but come up empty-handed. Finally, you find out the vase that sat in the hutch for years had been removed.

Why did it take you so long to figure that out? Because you were so used to looking at the same decorations you failed to notice it. The same goes for story structure. We are so used to seeing the same basic story structure over and over, we don’t see what throws it off.

To be classified as a story, the structure must have the Five Requirements. There are different ways of presenting them, like your mom’s house compared to mine, but they’re all there. The couch, the TV, the kitchen table. Each genre has its different Essential Scenes and conventions, but each of them still meets the Five Requirements.

The first Requirement is the Inciting Incident. This is the launching point of the story; it’s the part that forces the protagonist to react. Up until this point, it’s been set up for what’s going to happen: characters are introduced and worlds are built. Without this, there’s no way to tell what type of growth the character is going to experience.

The tricky thing about the Inciting Incident is that it somehow must tie in with the Climax of the plot. It needs to take the character from the way he is now, and hint at the way he’s going to be at the end. All without being obvious about what’s going to happen between the two.

Each story needs complication or Conflict. If you don’t see a character go through trials and tribulations, why bother? We want to see someone go through hard times, and more importantly, how they deal with it. A bit morose, like watching a train wreck, but true. These complications can happen internally, the character has a hard time mentally and/or emotionally dealing with certain challenges, or externally when there are outside forces working against them.

These complications must build upon each other, with the next one being more difficult than the last. These will build, most with a point of no return for the character, until the climax is finally reached. It’s the building of anticipation and tension that keeps readers reading instead of heading to bed. There can be as little as one conflict, such as in a short story (no, not all, but the shortest of shorts), or a series that builds within a novel.

All of these complications must build to the protagonist asking a big question or them being put into a Predicament. Depending on the genre, it can be as vague as, “Who am I?” to as specific as, “Will Captain Karen Walden receive the Medal of Honor?” in Courage Under Fire (there is also an internal Predicament that Lt. Col. Nat Serling goes through, but for our purposes, let’s focus on the external).

All of the conflicts up to this point have asked the same questions. They complicate the answer, but the main Predicament is presented as plainly as possible just before the Climax.

The Climax of the story is when that burning question on everyone’s mind, the Predicament, is finally answered. It’s usually a series of events, a fight, or a specific moment that all the conflicts point to and eventually make clear.

That sounds a bit short for the most exciting part of the book, right? The thing that makes the story work, is that all the unanswered questions get answered, all the clues are put together, and everything is cleared up. Between the Predicament and the Climax can be a series of battles, internal or external, reflections, the reveal of clues, etc. to really make this exciting.

We can’t have all that action and reflection built and not have anywhere to go. That’s why the Resolution is so important. It lets us know that the protagonist or his world has changed and it ties up loose ends. This is the part that tells us that life goes on for the characters. There will be more adventures and more growth for them to come, whether or not a sequel is published.

Next time you watch a TV show or a beloved movie, see if you can spot any or all of these Requirements. Then pick a movie that doesn’t quite work for you and see if you can spot where it went south.

A free draft assessment just might help you figure out if you’re missing one of the Five Requirements. Click here to schedule a time.


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