This is the final post (for now) in the story structure series. I thought it would be fitting to end with the structure from my own book, Story Secrets from Scripture: Develop and deliver children’s stories for worship, VBS, and Bible study, available as an ebook from Amazon and a print version exclusively from My Bible First.
Story Secret’s 5-Part Structure
The story structure I include in Story Secrets from Scripture is …
- Initial Situation … The main character is living a routine, normal life. Nothing out of the ordinary has occurred. Details relevant to the setup of the story are told.
- Complications … Something happens to interrupt the ordinary, every-day world of the main character. More than one complication may occur.
- Action … The main character responds to the complication(s) by taking one or more actions.
- Result … These actions have outcomes, either successful or unsuccessful.
- Final Situation … After any cycles of complications-actions-results have concluded, the story ends with the final situation. After everything in the story has occurred, how did it end? The French word denouement means tying up, and this is what should occur in the Final Situation.
Peter Rabbit, Version 1
- Initial Situation … Peter Rabbit lived with his mother and siblings under the root of a large tree. His father had been killed by a nearby gardener, Mr. McGregor. Mrs. Rabbit left to go shopping and admonished her children to stay out of Mr. McGregor’s garden.
- Complications … Peter, “who was very naughty,” went directly to the garden. As Peter explored the garden, he encountered Mr. McGregor who chased him deeper into the garden and into a shed.
- Action … After some time, Mr. McGregor returned to his gardening and Peter recovered sufficiently to see the gate out of the garden. Peter ran as fast as he could passed Mr. McGregor and through the gate.
- Result … He returned home without his clothes and sick.
- Final Situation … Mrs. Rabbit sent Peter to bed without supper while his siblings enjoyed a delicious meal.
This version using the 5-part structure is great for initial planning. In a story we know so well, this summary misses the various encounters and emotional experiences that Peter had.
Start with a 5-part summary and expand to bring the emotion and conflict to your story. Doing this for fiction is easier because all of the events come from your imagination. For nonfiction, it may require some mind mapping and brainstorming to identify more details for a story.
Peter Rabbit, Version 2
I designed the 5-part structure to be flexible. Version 1 above literally has 5 parts. However, as noted in the description of the Final Situation, “after any cycles of complications-actions-results have concluded,” meaning that a story can have as many subparts as needed to tell the story. There might be 1 problem (complication) with many attempts (actions and results) to solve it.
In the case of Peter Rabbit, he experiences several complications, each requiring action and a result that leads to further complications.
Complication 1 … Peter looked for parsley but encountered Mr. McGregor, who chased Peter.
Action 1 … Peter rushed all over the garden.
Result 1 … Peter became disoriented and lost his shoes.
Complication 2 … Peter ran into a net and lost some clothes. Mr. McGregor tried to trap Peter.
Action 2 … Peter wriggled out just in time.
Result 2 … Peter lost his jacket.
Complication 3 … Peter rushed into the tool shed and jumped into a can filled with water.
Action 3 … Peter sneezed., alerting Mr. McGregor to his presence.
Result 3 … Mr. McGregor tried to catch him, but Peter slipped through a window.
Complication 4 … Peter found a door in the wall, but it was locked.
Action 4 … He tried to squeeze underneath, but was not skinny enough. Peter asked a mouse for help, but she could not speak (due to carrying a large pea).
Result 4 … Peter began to cry.
Complication 5 … He re-approached the toolshed and encountered Mr. McGregor again.
Action 5 … Peter hid in the bushes and then climbed onto a wheelbarrow,
Result 5 … where he saw the gate out of the garden.
Notice that each complication is more severe than the previous one.
Finally, after 5 cycles of complication/action/result, Peter was able to escape and return home in the Final Situation.