A guide to story structure

Have you ever wondered how stories are built? Have you ever wondered how they take you to such magical places, and then let you back down in the just the right way? People have been asking themselves this question for hundreds of years, and, with some analysis, it’s possible to see what makes up the skeleton of a good story.

In this article, you will find a guide to story structure. This is not the way a story has to be structured; after all, we should all tell our stories in the way that feels best to us, but this handy guide may help you get your story back on track if you feel it getting difficult to know what comes next.

In most stories, there are 5 sections, known as acts. These start the story slowly, let it build up to its climax, and bring it to a satisfying conclusion at the end. This structure is handy to use if you get lost!

Here is a description of the 5 Acts and what their usual role is in a story.


In the first act, we introduce the world and main characters of a story. Here, we get to know the world and what the characters like and want. We meet the protagonist (hero or heroine), learns about their personality and what they want. The world is normally in harmony in Act 1. Nothing has gone wrong yet.


In the second act, something happens! By something, we mean something that changes the world of the protagonist. Maybe they meet someone who tells them something they didn’t know, maybe a bad person enters their world and they decide they have to fight them, maybe they just realize that something is missing inside them. In the second act, the protagonist’s world changes and they make the decision to act. They must change from the way they were because of the new thing that has entered their lives.

As a result, they start on a journey. Often this will take them to a different land, or to meet new people as they search for ways to face the change that has affected their world.


In the third act, the tension from this journey reaches a climax. Sometimes the protagonist has learned the spell, or the wisdom to face their enemy, or they return home to face a problem they had inside themselves all along. In the third act, the protagonist confronts the source of their trouble and, in most stories, they are victorious.


In the fourth act, we see the tension go down again. The enemy, or the problem that our protagonist faced, has been dealt with and they are relieved that it is over. Slowly, things start to get better.


In the fifth act, we see that our protagonist has learned something new about the world or about themselves. The world returns to normal, which is good, but the protagonist is forever changed by what they learned on their journey.


Many stories contain a structure like the one described above, but that does not mean they have to follow it. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules, and sometimes it’s helpful to see what has worked for people before us. The choice is yours! Happy writing!



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