Sunday, April 17, 2016

Story Structure: Dan Wells

In this post, I share about another story structure you can use for writing fiction, structuring presentations, and telling true stories.

Dan Wells

This is a model first developed by Dan Wells, an author of several books, both as series and stand alone novels. In 2010 he wrote a series of posts writing a story. Several other blogs have summarized his steps. The seven steps represent a very basic skeletal system, if writing a story of any length, but also provide a basic outline for a shorter story or presentation.

Peter Rabbit

In the story of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Peter disobeys his mother, explores a forbidden garden barely escaping with his life, and eventually gets back home.

Let's look at the seven point structure using Peter Rabbit as an example.

The seven plot points

  • Hook - this is where you as the writer or presenter grab the readers, causing them to ask, "What happens next?"
  • First plot point - This is point of no return similar to crossing the threshold in the hero's journey structure.
  • Pinch 1 - This is a situation that creates pressure on the main character.
  • Middle - The character discovers something that will help lead to a resolution.
  • Pinch 2 - However, before the resolution, more pressure is applied to main character, possibly a huge loss of some kind.
  • Second plot point - In this step, the main character obtains tools or knowledge in preparation for the resolution/final battle.
  • Resolution - Everything gets wrapped up for good or bad.

One of the unique aspects of Dan's approach is that he follows Stephen Covey's advice from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to "begin with the end in mind." As such, Dan starts with the resolution. How does the story end?

The next step is to decide on the hook. What is the main character doing at the beginning of the story?

Next, is the midpoint. The main character moves from reaction, where he responds to circumstances, to action, where he intentionally creates a path forward.

With the ending, beginning, and middle determined, the remaining elements can be determined.

The two plot points should be created. Finally, the two pinch points, where increasing pressure is placed on the main character, should be determined.

Here is my take on Peter Rabbit using the 7-point structure. These are presented in the order using during the planning of a story, so you will have to mentally re-order them to read the story sequentially.
  • Resolution - Peter makes a beeline for the gate and returns home tired, but missing all of his clothes.
  • Hook - Peter lives with his mother and siblings under a tree.
  • Midpoint - Peter realizes the garden is full of dangers and just wants to go home.
  • Plot point 1 - Mrs. Rabbit forbids her baby rabbits from playing in Mr. MacGregor's garden, but Peter ignores her warning.
  • Plot point 2 - Peter climbs into a wheelbarrow and can see the entrance to the garden, but he is on the opposite side from where he needs to be.
  • Pinch 1 - As Mr. MacGregor is chasing Peter, Peter gets caught on some netting and barely escapes.
  • Pinch 2 - Peter runs into the shed and hides in a watering can filled with water. He barely escapes out the window and hides out in the garden.


Dan Wells - How to Build A Story features slide deck and video.
Dan Wells - Writing a Short Story
Construction by Ravenblack7575 (via Flickr)

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