Hey there, fellow scribe!
Welcome to Smarter Story Structure. I’m so thrilled to have you here.
I truly believe this course will not only help you become a better writer…but also a more productive one.
I bet you’re eager to dive in, but before you do, you should become acquainted with the “lay of the land,” so to speak. That’s what we’re going to do in this lesson.
But before we get to that, there’s something we need to discuss:
Why are you here?
Why is it important to master story structure?
Part of that answer has to do with the experience you ultimately create for book lovers and movie fans.
People who live thousands of miles away from you…
…they’re shedding tears…
…or their heartbeat is quickening in pace…
…or maybe they’re re-experiencing the high of falling in love.
And you did that.
You changed their emotional landscape—even though you’ve never met them.
You did it purely through the magic of your words, through your ability to transport them to another world.
Pretty incredible, huh?
Smiling woman by Brandi Redd (https://unsplash.com/photos/P3qLX14CJrk)
It’s an amazing feeling. There’s nothing quite like it.
And it’s a valuable benefit, to be sure. But there’s another benefit, too (one which your practical side may appreciate even more).
Telling great stories helps you make more money.
When you prove to audiences that you can deliver the emotional experience they’re seeking, they’ll buy more from you.
What does this have to do with story structure?
When executed well, story structure helps you deliver the “ups” and “downs” in a way that elicits the maximum degree of emotion from audiences.
As Chris Vogler explains in The Writer’s Journey (by the way, you may’ve already encountered this quote on the home page for this course):
“The structure of a story acts like a pump to increase the involvement of the audience. Good structure works by alternately lowering and raising the hero’s fortunes and, with them, the audience’s emotions.
A Budweiser commercial from a few years ago is a good case in point. While I’m not a fan of beer, I am a fan of this ad. Why?
In less than 2 minutes, it brought me to tears.
Check it out:
That’s the power of a well-structured story.
And after you’ve finished this course, you should have the tools you need to structure your next screenplay or novel with confidence.
By structure, we’re talking about three-act structure, where a story is divided into three acts, like so:
Moreover, each of these acts is associated with a particular set of essential plot points.
These plot points go by different names, depending on whom you ask. This is how they’re named in this course (don’t worry if these terms are unfamiliar to you; we’ll go into definitions in later lessons):
You can see how the essential plot points map onto the three acts in the “story graph” below:
Now let’s break it down, module by module:
Note: If you want to skip the module-by-module breakdown, you can—but make sure to scroll down and read “the nitty-gritty” section at the end of this page. It covers information you need to know to get the most out of this course.
By the end of Module 1, you should be able to:
* By the way, the tip you’ll find in Lesson 1.1 can help you focus on what’s important when you need to summarize the plot of your novel in a book description or query letter.
By the end of Module 2, you should be able to:
By the end of Module 3, you should be able to:
By the end of Module 4, you should be able to:
By the end of Module 5, you should be able to:
All right, you know what we’re going to cover in each module. Now let’s quickly run through some of the nitty-gritty details:
(1) After you complete a lesson, to access the next one, click on the button at the top of the screen marked “complete and continue.” When you do this, the progress bar (on the left side of the screen) will automatically update so you can see, at a glance, how far you’ve come.
(2) Five PDF slide decks are included in this course. In the appropriate lesson, they’ll show up on an embedded PDF viewer so you can review them right away.
FYI: I find that it’s most effective to cycle through the slides by using the “next” arrow on the menu bar of the viewer (as opposed to scrolling with your mouse).
But you don’t have to use the embedded viewer to access the decks. If you prefer, you can download them instead. Look for a light gray bar underneath the embedded viewer, like this:
Just click on the title of the slide deck. It should open in a separate tab. Then, to save the PDF to your computer, click on the download button at the top-right of the screen. When prompted, save the file (it should go wherever you typically store downloads on your computer, e.g. your Downloads folder or your desktop).
PS: Use the same process to download other course materials, like your Step-By-Step Story Structure Organizer and Recommended Reading guide (more details on those, below!).
(3) The majority of the lessons in this course culminate in a writing exercise. Now, some writers adore these kinds of activities, while others prefer to ignore them.
If you fall into the latter camp, it is HIGHLY recommended that, despite your reluctance, you complete these exercises. This way, you’ll get the most out of this course.
Also, these exercises are fun, and many don’t take that much time to complete. (And for the ones that do take up more time, they usually involve watching a movie. More fun!)
All of the writing exercises have been conveniently compiled into one PDF workbook. It’s called the Three-Act Structure Workbook, and it can be found in the Resource section that follows the modules.
I suggest that you download this workbook right before you start this course—but print it out one module at a time.
Some of the writing exercises come with sample answers. Like the exercises themselves, the answers have also been compiled into one PDF. This, too, can be found in the Resource section.
(4) Three lessons in this course are delivered via audio only. They are:
To facilitate learning and memory retention, these lessons also come with their own workbook, the Audio Companion, which (you guessed it!) can be found in the Resource section.
To get the most out of the Audio Companion, it’s suggested that you focus on listening to the audio in full, first. Afterward, try to answer the questions.
(5) This course also comes with a third workbook, the Story Structure Organizer. This workbook will help you implement everything you’ve learned, and build—step by step—a sturdy structural foundation for your next writing project.
This workbook can be accessed from Lesson 5.8.
(6) This course is detailed, yet compact. It should give you everything you need to jump into the “deep end” of story structure. Still, there’s a difference between the deep end…and deep-sea diving.
That kind of exploration requires more details, which are beyond the scope of this course. Those details, however, are explored in the writing guides in my Story Structure Essentials series.
If you’re interested, you can find a list of them in the Recommended Reading guide (which is located in the Resource section). In this PDF guide, you’ll also find additional book recommendations as well as links to some of the best online articles, videos, and podcasts on story structure.
While not required, reviewing this material should supplement and enhance your course experience.
(7) Once you enroll, there are different ways to access this course. Here’s the way I recommend. Bookmark or record the link for the home page of this course:
When you visit this page, click on the “Student Login” link. (It should be at the top-right.)
Once you log in, you should be taken to the “My Courses” page, where you’ll see a thumbnail image of this course. Click on this image—and voila!—you’ll be taken to all the lessons in Smarter Story Structure.
(8) As a general rule, the tips in this course apply equally to screenplays and novels.
Despite this, I primarily use film examples to illustrate my points. That’s because movies are more universal.
Chances are greater that you’ve watched Die Hard rather than read the novel that spawned the blockbuster franchise. Even if you’re a romance buff, it’s more likely that you’ve rented The Proposal than skimmed a paperback entitled Andrew and Margaret’s Fake Engagement.
On paper, the titles of films adapted from novels (or a TV series) appear the same as novel (or TV) titles. Customarily, all are indicated via italics (or, occasionally, via all-capital letters). But since I mainly rely on film examples, unless otherwise noted, it’s safe to assume I’m referencing the film version only.
A couple of other points:
(9) The material in this course is copyrighted. It’s for your personal, individual use. This means that you shouldn’t make it publicly available. It also means that you shouldn’t share course materials with your friends or colleagues.
If you’re a member of a group or other organization (e.g. writer’s group, prodco, etc.) and you want other group members to be able to access this course and get the same insights that you did, please contact me regarding bulk-purchasing options. (You can also use this link for any other purchasing questions you might have.)
(10) Finally, I know that females make kick-butt protagonists, but for the sake of simplicity, I tend to stick to masculine nouns and pronouns.
Okay, that covers everything. Let’s get to it.
Click on “complete and continue” at the top-right of the screen, and dive into Module 1: Getting Smarter About Story Beginnings!