Story Design- The Magic Number 3


Author  and writing coach, Barbara Kyle, recently said, “Of all the arts, writing is the most deceptive.” I couldn’t agree more! There seems to be an understanding that not everyone can draw, or paint, or play an instrument. Many agree that it takes talent and training for chemist to develop lifesaving treatments or for an architect to design breathtaking buildings or for a skater or hockey player to become an Olympian. But, writing? Anyone can do that! Right? No.

Everyone has learned to write, but not everyone can write. Many think, you just need to sit down and start pounding out the words and that because we have learned to string letters, words and sentences together that is all the training that is required.  NOT TRUE!

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Sit down, Type, Bleed. Writing, like painting, or typewriter-863635_1920designing a building, or  composing a symphony requires training, practice, failing, learning, editing, re-editing, patience, talent, perseverance, bleeding…you get the idea. So what does one do who wants to write, and write a story in particular? There are many things you can do such as take courses, join a writer’s group, read (a lot) and write. If you want to start. If you want to continue without completely bleeding out. If you have a piece finished but it’s lacking something.  Let me be share with  you some things I have learned over these next three blogs.


Let’s begin by looking at Story Design.

No-one understood story design better than Shakespeare (aah, The Bard. I hated him william-shakespeare-62936_1280in high school thanks to endless worksheets but how I love him as a writer). Shakespeare, the playwright, teaches all writes the precious, and highly effective, three-part Act. Early learners understand this at the basic level of “The Beginning, Middle, and End.” However, as we grow in our understanding of story design we know this more as the Inciting Incident, Complications and Climax. 

elephant-1130091_1280This three-part arrangement is something our brain understands intuitively. For example:

We are BORN, we LIVE and then we DIE

We are CHILDREN,  then Teens and, finally, Adulthood (okay, some of you are adults, the rest of you are in a  suspended state of adolescents  – very handy for writing children or teen novels!)

We Meet, we Fall in Love, and we Marry.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.

Morning, Afternoon, Evening

So if our brain understands this three act process, why do so many writers fail to succeed in writing a compelling story?

It comes down to story design.  What we may understand intuitively, does not always translate (well) into our own stories.

Let’s look at what I mean by Story Design(SD).  I like the definition provided by Barbara Kyle. She defines SD this way: “a compelling novel is built on situations that put increasing pressure on characters, forcing them into more and more difficult dilemmas so they must make increasingly risky choices, leading them to take actions that eventually reveal their true nature.”

Digest that for a moment.

  1. We have pressurized situations
  2. Characters making risky choices
  3. Actions revealing true character

Three parts! Number 3

Without going into too much depth (just yet), I want to challenge you with something. Give you a little task to do. Are you up for it? I see some hands shooting up. Good. Aaah, and I see that timid hand that’s barely up in the corner. Good for you. You’re making a risky move, and I am excited for you. Now, take a look at your story and answer the following three questions:

  1. Do the situations in my story increase the pressure on my characters?
  2. Are my characters making risky choices that raises the stakes? Or are they playing it safe? Are their choices too risky (and therefore not realistic)?
  3. Are the actions my characters taking revealing their true nature or is the character stagnate?

Once you have answered these questions, honestly and critically, you will have some work to do on your story. But take heart! You are beginning to design a compelling story. Let me know how it goes. Leave a comment. Share your #3 examples 😛

Stay tune for Part 2 of Story Design!

Until Next Time…Take Note of All the 3s in Your World!




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