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How To Structure Your Story Idea


From Story Idea to Story Summary

​Once you create your
one-sentence story idea, build out to a summary paragraph to include characters, main story points, and the climax. Expanding your story idea builds your story writing momentum.

Years ago Randy Ingermanson proposed a way to summarize your story highlighting the important pivots: three disasters plus an ending. Based on Aristotle’s three-act structure, the summary outlines the crucial events in the book.

From One Sentence to Five Sentences

Begin with the setup and go through the story to the end in five sentences.

  1. The first sentence sets up the story by introducing the lead characters and the story world.
  2. The second sentence summarizes the beginning and presents the first disaster to force a decision that frames the story question.
  3. The third sentence summarizes the first part of the middle, leading up to the second disaster.
  4. The fourth sentence summarizes the second part of the middle, leading up to the third disaster, which forces a decision to pursue the final confrontation.
  5. The fifth sentence explains how the story ends, including the final confrontation and any wrap-up that you feel you need to explain.

Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, p. 153.

This structure is the framework for your storyline and all the scenes that build your story.

How These Sentences Work For Mystery Writers

Seen through the lens of writing a mystery you can focus your sentences. 

  1. Introduce your detective and the world in which they operate. The beginning hook.
  2. The detective’s current situation and how they get involved in the murder. Who gets them involved?
  3. The detective’s first attempts to discover evidence and clues and the first suspects leading to a dead end.  
  4. The detective searches for a different set of clues, interviews new suspects, or changes his opinion of a suspect. A new clue or evidence sets him on the path to the true murderer. The build to the end.
  5. The detective confronts the murderer and gets a confession or in some procedurals has a fight to the death. The ending payoff.

With this structure in place, start creating your scenes. As you brainstorm, the structure helps you find plot holes from places where you have yet to create a scene. As you write each scene the structure guides you toward moving the story forward.
Zara Altair
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Her course for beginning writers Write A Killer Mystery is coming soon. Get on the notification list.
Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

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