Story Patterns

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I recently attended a writer’s workshop that was hosted by a local writers group. The presenter, Judy Olsen, talked about story patterns and how learning and using one of five basic constructs could make a world of difference in your writing success. Since I have never structured a book before, I decided to investigate this concept using Judy’s guidance and your advice. Judy referenced a book called, How to Write for Children and Young Adults written by Jane Fitz-Randolph. I also heavily referenced Judy’s article, Guide to Short-story Plotting.

 What are the Five Story Patterns?

 1. Purpose-Achieved Story

In this pattern the main character has a purpose or desire that is presented at the beginning of the story and the character attempts to achieve that purpose throughout the story. Sometimes the character is able to make advancement toward the goal and other times they are pushed back. In the end, the character achieves his/her purpose, or brings it about, through his/her own courage, own ingenuity, or special ability. If you saw the film, The Book of Eli, you will recall that Eli had a quest to protect the last Bible and had many adventures along the way. I’m sure that you can think of many more…if you would like to share some examples, just add them in comments.

Steps to writing

  • Introduce the main character and the challenge quickly.
  • Create several attempts where the main character works to solve the problem
  • The resolution occurs at the point of most danger and as a result of the main character’s efforts.

2. Story of Wish Fulfillment

In this  pattern the main character has a strong desire or wish that is almost impossible to fulfill. He/she may make one or two efforts to get his wish. When he/she fails, he/she accepts as a fact that he/she cannot have the wish and feels unhappy about it. Then, as a logical result of what he/she is or because of something he/she does, but not in an effort to get his wish (some thoughtful or unselfish act) he/she gets the wish or an equally acceptable or better substitute. I think the movie Letter to Juliet is a good example of this. In this story Sophie is an unpublished writer who wants to get her work published. During the course of the story, some interesting things happen and Sophie eventually gets what she wants.

Steps to writing

  • The main character has a strong wish that seems difficult to achieve
  • The main character either makes little or no effort to get the wish.
  • Interesting action follows, seemingly unrelated to the main character’s wish
  • The main character gets the wish

When the “good” thing happens to the main character, the reader is pleased because the main character deserves it.

3. Story of Misunderstanding, Discovery, and Reversal

“In the beginning of the story, the character misunderstands something; a motive, a situation, an action, or himself. The misunderstanding continues throughout the beginning and middle of the story, and the character acts on the basis of his misunderstanding. But at the end, the action of the story shows him he is wrong; he discovers his mistake. Therefore, he reverses his belief and consequent action. (This is a come to realize ending.)” The Ugly Duckling story written by Hans Christian Andersen I think is a good illustration of this plot pattern. The swan thinks he is a duck and doesn’t fit comfortably into his surroundings. Consequently, he searches and searches for a place to fit in and finally finds a home and comes to realize that he is a beautiful swan and not an ugly duck.

Steps to writing

  • Begin the story with the main character believing in some idea that in the end is either wrong or not in his/her best interest.
  • Several incidents follow which move the main character closer to the truth
  • The story comes to a defining moment where the main character is convinced that he/she is right but the reader can clearly see that the main character is about to make a mistake.
  • The discovery moment follows the defining moment.
  • The main character must perform some action to demonstrate the reversal of his/her belief.

4. The Story of Decision

“The main character is faced at the outset with a moral decision. It appears at the beginning that making the morally right decision will bring him unpleasant results, while making the other choice will bring immediate gain and satisfaction. He is strongly tempted to make that choice, but after battling with himself, he finally makes the “right” choice and acts on it. He finds the moral choice was the better one, and he has grown as a person.  Stomp The Yard: homecoming, is an excellent example of this pattern. Chance Harris is supposed to lead his team to the “final show-down”. Before Chance leads his team to victory he has to make some very important decisions…he can disappoint his family and friends or risk getting beat-up or worse.

Steps to writing

  • The main character must have a clearly defined moral decision with several obstacles. The main character believes the morally right decision is not in his best interest while the morally wrong decision promises immediate gain and satisfaction.
  • Two to four incidents follow that show the main character wavering between right and wrong.
  • The story reaches a climax where the decision must be made. The decision must be revealed by some action of the main character.

5. The Incident Story

There are two types of “incident story”. The first one is simply a series of events that happen to the main character. The second type, the incident-adventure, is created when the main character goes into an unfamiliar environment and a series of events happen to him. The Prince of Persia is an example of this pattern. Dastan, the fugitive prince must go on a journey to save the world and his family.

Steps to writing

  • Clearly establish where you are.
  • Several incidents follow. The main character moves from one incident to the next.
  • Create unity in the story by either bringing the reader back to the point of beginning, have a common element in all incidents or have some type of repetition.