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Writing Tools > Four-Part Sequential Story Model

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message 1: by J. (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments Recently I have been attempting to write the first book in a series that I've been attempting to write for the entirety of my writing life -- which isn't particularly long compared to some BUT this story has consumed me. I say "attempting" because I keep getting stuck.

Since I keep getting stuck, I thought I'd start looking around for ideas as to what I'm doing wrong. I came across this blog series and hoped it would shed some light on my problem. It hasn't yet, but that's beside the point.

Anyway, it's about using a four-part structure -- four boxes within a bigger box, as the author puts it. Each box has its own purpose and scenes and whatnot, and nothing that would fit in one box should go into any other boxes.

I'm still in the process of reading the posts, but I wanted to share it and get other, more accomplished writers' opinions on this model. (Please bear with me, I don't know very many accomplished writers and I tend to be the most knowledgable about the craft in my peer group, but that's not really saying a whole lot.)

Does anyone here adhere to this model? How well does it work for you?

Here is the link to the introduction to the story model, and I will post a snippet from the blog as well.

The first box: Part 1 of your story… the Set-up.

The first 20 to 25 percent of your story has but a single mission: to set-up everything that is to follow. That job breaks down into a handful of things it needs to accomplish, all under the umbrella of that singular mission. It’s not there to fully present the story’s main antagonistic force, only to foreshadow it. Or, if it does show it at all, it shows only part of it.

Most importantly, the job of Part 1 is to establish stakes for what happens to the hero after Part 1. Here in Part 1 is where the reader is made to care about what happens next.

Part 1’s job is to introduce the hero and show us what she or he has going on in their life… not for the remainder of the story, but before the arrival of the main antagonistic force (the primary conflict of the story).

The more we empathize with what the hero has at stake – what they need and want in their life, and/or what obstacles they need to conquer before the arrival of the primary conflict, the more we care about them when all of that changes.

Which it will at the very end of Part 1. It’s called the First Plot Point, or sometimes the Inciting Incident. And inciting it must be. Because the story really begins at the point at which Part 1 ends.

Part 1’s purpose is to bring the character to that transitionpoint through a series of scenes. Part 1 ends when the hero is made aware of the arrival of something new in their life, often something very scary or challenging. Something that creates an obstacle to what they need to accomplish or achieve, even if that quest is completely new and unknown.

The very end of Part 1 is the first full frontal view of the story’s primary antagonistic force. The bad guy, if you will. We may have seen it before, but now, at the end of Part 1, we understand what it wants, and how what it wants creates opposition to what our hero wants in response to it.

The rest of the story is about how the hero moves through this new quest. A new journey begins. This is where the story really starts. Everything that happens prior to the end of Part 1 is a SET-UP for what happens to the hero after Part 1.

In Part 1 the hero is like an orphan, unsure of what will happen to them next. And like orphans, we feel for them, we empathize with them. We care.

In a novel this should take 50 to 100 pages, the first 25 to 30 pages in a screenplay. There’s more to know about Part 1 – much more – but this is the basic mission and context of what it delivers.

The second box: Part 2 of your story… the Response.

At the end of Part 1 you unveiled the real course and destination of the story: the showdown between the hero and the opposing force that stands in the way of what she or he needs to acquire, achieve or change in order to reach their goals. And not the goals of Part 1, but the new goals created by the presence of the inciting incident.

It could be survival, finding love, getting away from love gone bad, acquiring wealth, healing, attaining justice, stopping or catching the bad guys, preventing disaster, escaping danger, saving someone, saving the entire world, or anything else from the realm of human experience and dreams.

Every story has conflict, or its not a story at all. That conflict is what stands in the way of what the hero needs or wants in the story.

Part 2 is the hero’s response to the introduction of this new situation, as represented by the conflict itself. It’s too early to have them attack the problem; Part 2 is exclusively about a reaction to the antagonistic force.

The hero is running, hiding, analyzing, observing, recalculating, planning, recruiting or anything else required before she or he can move forward.

Then, at the end of Part 2, just when the hero thinks they have it figured out, when they have a plan, everything changes.

In Part 2, the hero is a wanderer, staggering through a forest of options and risks, not sure where to go or what to do next. It comprises roughly the next 100 pages of your novel – which means, there’s an entire contextual infrastructure to it… stay tuned – or from page 27ish to 60 in your screenplay.

The third box: Part 3 of your story… the Attack.

By now we’ve had enough of the hero stumbling around, being fearful and hesitant, being clueless, basically trying to figure out how to fix things and move forward and coming up empty. In fact, the hero may not be remotely heroic at this stage.

In Part 3 the hero begins to try to fix things. To attain the goal. They get proactive. It is here where they attack the obstacles. They conquer their inner demons to do things differently than before. They summon courage and apply creative thinking. They lead. They move forward.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens – the antagonistic force is moving forward, too – and what the hero thought would work isn’t quite enough. They need more. More courage. More creativity. A better plan.

And that’s the next 100 pages or so of your story (30 pages in a screenplay). That’s Part 3.

The wanderer has now become a warrior.

And then, the final piece of the puzzle arrives at the end of Part 3 (the Second Plot Point). And everything changes again. The chase is on, and the hero is not to be denied.

The fourth box: Part 4 of your story… the Resolution.

The thing to remember about Part 4 is that no new information can enter the story here. Everything the hero needs to know, to work with, or to work alongside (as in, another character) is already in play.

Part 4 shows how the hero summons the courage and growth to come forward with a solution to the problem, to reach the goal, to save the day or even the world, to attain the fame and riches associated with victory, and to generally beat down and conquer the story’s antagonistic force.

Sometimes the hero can actually die in the process. But before they do, they need to have solved at least a major element of the problem they were facing. When heroes die it is because they must in order to save others.

And that’s why the orphan, then the wanderer, and then the warrior now becomes the martyr. Because they do what must be done in order to reach the goal.

The Whole of the Four Parts

Each part of this structure is of roughly the same length, though you do cheat the first and fourth Parts to a fewer number of pages, made up for in the middle two parts. In 3-act movie structure, Parts 2 and 3 as described here are simply combined – but with the same unique contextual essences – to comprise Act 2, known in Hollywood and beyond as The Confrontation.

Rent some DVDs tonight and watch this 4-part paradigm play out before your eyes. Sometimes it’s subtle, but I assure you, it’s there. Same with the books you’re reading. Four parts, four contexts, four completely separate missions for their scenes.

Clarifying as all this is, it gets even better when you throw in a whole menu of story milestones and mid-Part structural elements that help you along the way.

message 2: by David (new)

David (drussell52) Hi Rene, :) As another relative newcomer to the writing profession, seven years, I can see the logic behind the four parts, but to think of them as separate boxes poses a major issue of fragmentation to me. Also, this sounds like more for a novel as in having scenes plural, in part 1. I thought of John Grisham as I read this synopsis, as I have read a few of his novels over the years. They assume this pattern. Just my nickel's worth.

message 3: by J. (last edited Aug 02, 2016 03:35AM) (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments David wrote: "Hi Rene, :) As another relative newcomer to the writing profession, seven years, I can see the logic behind the four parts, but to think of them as separate boxes poses a major issue of fragmentati..."

I generally followed a three part method as I was planning for my series. Each book has a Beginning, Middle, End, three major events in the Middle, and three supporting scenes for the Beginning, the End, and each major event. It works fine for an adventure story, I think, but sometimes it feels like there might be too much going on. I really need to step back and stop thinking about it, haha.

As far as fragmentation, I can see that if you only look at this four-part method (which was my mistake yesterday). Upon further investigation, though, I found that this is supposed to be part of a nine-part method. Another author wrote an overview of Larry Brooks's structure and it's putting the whole thing into a bit better perspective. (I had trouble following Brooks's message, ha.)

From Jordan McCollum's blog:

The structure is in four parts with three turning points separating them (plus two “pinch points”). Each part of the story should be about one quarter of the story.

Part one is the Set-up. In this part of the story, we meet the characters and are introduced to the story question. (If you’re reading this and thinking “Oh, the Ordinary World,” you’re not alone.) Here we also establish what’s at stake, but most of all, we’re working up to the turning point at the end of this part: Plot Point 1 (what we commonly call the Inciting Incident).

Brooks says that First Plot Point is the most important moment in your story. Located 20-25% of the way into your story, it’s

the moment when the story’s primary conflict makes its initial center-stage appearance. It may be the first full frontal view of it, or it may be the escalation and shifting of something already present.

This is a huge turning point—where the whole world gets turned on its head. (If you like, you can say this is where we formally pose the story question.)

PP1 bridges into Part 2—the Response. The hero/heroine responds to the first plot point. This response can be a refusal, shock, denial, etc., etc. That doesn’t mean they have to do nothing—they have to do something, and something more than sitting and stewing—but their reactions are going to be . . . well, reactive. The hero(ine) isn’t ready to go on the offensive to save the day quite yet—they’re still trying to preserve the status quo.

In the middle of this part (about 3/8s of the way through your story), comes Pinch Point 1. Brooks defines a pinch point as “an example, or a reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force, that is not filtered by the hero’s experience. We see it for ourselves in a direct form.” So it’s something bad that we get to see happen, showing us how bad the bad guy is, raising the stakes.

At the end of the Response comes the Mid-Point. As the name suggests, this is halfway through the story. And here, the hero and/or the reader receives some new bit of information. It’s pretty important, though—this is the kind of revelation that changes how we view the story world, changing the context for all the scenes that come after it.

Then we swing into Part Three, the Attack. Now our hero(ine) is ready to go on the offensive. He’s not going to operate on the bad guy’s terms anymore—he’s taking matters into his own hands, and he’s going after the bad guy. This is the proactive hero’s playing field now.

In the middle of this part (5/8s of the way through the story), comes Pinch Point 2, which is just like PP1—a show of how bad the bad guy is.

Part Three ends with a lull before the Second Plot Point, our last new information in the story. This last revelation is often the key to solving the mystery or fixing the problem—it’s the last piece of info the hero needs to make his world right. This comes 75% of the way into the story.

And now we’re ready for Part Four, the Resolution. Our hero steps up and takes the lead for the final chases, the last showdowns. Here we get to see how much of a hero he really is—he passes his final tests, proves he’s changed and finally, saves the day.

message 4: by J. (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments As a prolific planner (to the point that I rarely write anything unless I've mapped every single moment out) I like to research writing techniques, haha, just to see if any of them would work better for me than my three-part method.

I'm going to try out this "box method", as I've decided to call it, on a new story, and see how well it works before I try to fit my series into it.

(Now that I've done more research, I find that my Book 1 loosely fits. Once I've practiced with the method then I'll know whether or not it's one of those "one size fits all" types or "no ease" types, haha.)

message 5: by David (new)

David (drussell52) J. Rene, Go for it!
Unlike you, I may outline main events to occur in each chapter if writing a novella, but with flash or short stories, I work from the mental summary in my cranium.

I guess for myself, visualizing four boxes or compartments gets in the way of having a connected flow within the story. I'll be interested to read yours or others observations!

message 6: by J. (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments I just finished my own little format visual with notes from Mr. Brooks's series on story structure. It's still pretty wordy but I can understand it much better.

Here is the one with notes and here is the bare one with prompts.

Yes yes, took me way longer than necessary, but that's me - taking longer than necessary on useless things xD

message 7: by David (new)

David (drussell52) J. Rene wrote: "I just finished my own little format visual with notes from Mr. Brooks's series on story structure. It's still pretty wordy but I can understand it much better.

Here is the one with notes and here..."

Hi J. Rene,

The key word from your second source summing Mr. Brooks is "bridging." That Makes much more sense than the box analogy.

I could not open up either link when pressing enter on said link; (one with notes, or bare one), FF would have a bunch of numbers/letters appear and tabbing forward and backward did not allow access either.

Would you post the one with prompts as a comment instead, or consider pasting and emailing to me?

You may be more advanced in your story writing than myself, i.e., multiple scenes in each part. All in all writing is definitely a work in progress.

I'll be out of the loop until Wednesday at the earliest.

By the way, are these blog writers affiliated with a given source like an MFA program or periodical?

message 8: by J. (last edited Aug 02, 2016 02:53PM) (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments David wrote: "J. Rene wrote: "I just finished my own little format visual with notes from Mr. Brooks's series on story structure. It's still pretty wordy but I can understand it much better.

Here is the one wit..."

There isn't anything really straightforward but Mr. Brooks's website has won a few awards from Writers Digest as one of the best websites for writers. Ms. McCollum's books have won multiple Whitney Awards. I don't particularly know how important either is, haha.

I have no idea how "advanced" I am. I just know I've been at least attempting to write for as long as I can remember and recently finished my first rough draft of what I considered a throw-away novella, though I haven't managed to get through the revision yet. I have a story that will hopefully make it into the Writers 750 Halloween anthology, and I got a few awards for writing while I was in school, but nothing big. I've only recently been able to really devote myself to my passion.

And of course! I posted the links in an attempt to conserve space but if they don't work anyway then no problem. I can try to post the images instead.

message 9: by J. (last edited Aug 02, 2016 03:01PM) (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments

message 10: by Glenda (new)

Glenda Reynolds (glendareynolds) | 1059 comments Mod
Without getting into much detail here (because my dinner still waits; I've emailed David a couple of times before coming here...)
I remember reading a Jerry Jenkins (author of Left Behind series) that he said some writers are "pantsers": they write by the seat of their pants without an outline. I think he said that Stephen King is a pantser; his characters know what will happen when he does. I also think you should consider doing a writing diagram such as the one featured in Nancy Ellen Dodd's book The Writer's Compass with a beginning, middle & end with a building climax. You also may want to think of your book as a movie. What would you like to see happen? The more difficulties for your protagonist, the better for the reader. Maybe the character traits of your story characters will dictate the story line or outcome. Ok, for the last time, dinner awaits...

message 11: by J. (new)

J. Rene (jaydreamz) | 20 comments I am definitely not a pantser, haha, but I commend others who can sit there without knowing where they want to go with it and still manage to write a cohesive story. As for all the planning methods out there, I've done most of them in one form or another. I have a wall in my bedroom covered by a story map.

message 12: by David (new)

David (drussell52) Hello anyone and everyone,
Glenda's advice to weave a tale for the protagonist, is also advice I have been given. I grew up with Once upon a time stories, and in a lot of cases, one thing threatens multiple characters: Three Little Pigs, Three Bears, etc. Cartoons were similar, PopEye, Bugs Bunny, and of course, Rocky and Bullwinkle.. Smile!

I tend to write similarly with one event in mind particularly with our group monthly theme.

Of recent, it has become habit to read both "From The Book Jacket" and ""The LOC Annotation" when beginning a new novel. The following annotation backs Glenda and others who advise a couple twists and turns in a story. This is from "Tara Road" by Maeve Binchy.

"In Ireland, Ria's marriage falls apart when her husband leaves her for his pregnant girlfriend. In CT, Marilyn, unable to cope with her son's death, separates from her husband. **A phone call sets in motion the swapping of houses for the summer, and a chance for each woman to rediscover herself."

The ** added by me to indicate the ramping up of story stakes.


message 13: by Glenda (last edited Aug 03, 2016 09:05PM) (new)

Glenda Reynolds (glendareynolds) | 1059 comments Mod
Personally, when I see plot twists such as David just talked about, I ask myself, "How did he/she handle that?" ...like the wife who catches her adulteress husband, does she step on the gas pedal and ram her car into his pristine Lincoln in the garage? Does she take his golf clubs and throw them over a high cliff? Or will she take a butcher knife and hack up the nude male statue in the foyer? Sounds like a juicy side plot to me. I want to see the movie when it comes out - ha, ha!

Here again, the early childhood stories or cartoons, they have bullies in them. The bullies helped drive the story. I remember reading that you should take your favorite story or a really good known one; change the characters, the setting and add a few off shoot plots. You'll have a great story. Good stories are variations of good well known stories.

I just opened an email from The Write Life. Here is an article about Writer's Block http://thewritelife.com/6-reasons-you...

message 14: by David (new)

David (drussell52) Hi Glenda and others,

Thanks for the link to the article from The Write Life; I'm limiting my academic writing learning to four resources, and of course, practice via our group and another.

The book I just started reading is titled, Tara Road, Maeve Binchy, 1998. It's a lengthy novel. In audio form, about 18 hours long.


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