The 7 Types of Narrative Structure

Did you know there are seven, seven, types of narrative structure? From the Three-Act Structure to the Seven-Point Structure, you have a few to choose from when writing your stories. Today, I will be giving you a brief overview of each narrative structure, and be prepared for future posts solely on each story type of narrative structure.

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What exactly is narrative structure? Essentially, it’s a blueprint to follow when outlining your story structure, telling you where to plot certain points in the narrative. It’s the particular order in which narrative is presented in a story, but it’s also made up of narrative elements that drive the action, such as character, conflict, setting, etc. Remember that your plot is driven by a lot of varying factors, so you can think of a novel as one giant spider’s web, all interwoven and connected. Every element should make sense within your story, and every plot point should have a purpose.

Basic story structure goes as follows:
1. Normal life/Status Quo
Your character is going along, going about his everyday business. Everything is hunky dory (or maybe not so hunky dory, depending on your character’s background, like in The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, where Cormoran Strike is sleeping in his office, has broken up with his intermittent girlfriend, and all around down and out with very few jobs as a private detective). You can make this as short or (sort of) long as you want.

2. The Inciting Event/Incident
This is the event that brings your protagonist’s normal life to a total and utter halt. He cannot come back from his event, and his life is about to change forever, whether for the better or for the worse. This should point your protagonist in the direction his ultimate goal, if not at least begin to lead him in that direction.

3. Rising Action
Your protagonist is pursuing their goal, hindered by the obstacles you put in his way, and each time he gets a little closer.

4. Climax/All-Is-Lost
This is the big moment in your story that you’ve been building up to. It’s the final showdown, a battle of wits. There is also most likely a moment when your protagonist thinks he has lost it all, that the battle is lost, and he’s about to give up.

5. Resolution
Here, your character has either a) won the battle, victory! or b) lost the battle or c) lost the battle, but realized they have something more important.

These are the most common “beats” in a story structure. When you dive into the different types of narrative structure, you’ll find that the placement and types of beats within a story structure will vary.

There are seven varying forms of narrative structure. Below, you’ll find a brief description of each one.

  1. Three-Act Structure
    This structure splits your story into three acts: First Act(25%), Second Act(50%), Third Act(25%). The first act makes up the beginning quarter of your story; the second act makes up the entire middle of your story, or 50% of your overall story (give or take); and finally, the third act makes up the ending 25% of your story. Act one is your status quo/normal life and inciting event, and ends with the first plot point. The first plot point then leads into the second act, which includes your rising action and a midpoint. The third plot point leads into the third act, which includes your climax and resolution. For a great series on the Three-Act Structure, check out helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com.
  2. Freytag’s Pyramid
    This is essentially what it sounds like: picture your story like a pyramid of rising and falling action, with your climax at the very peak. While this structure is named after a 19th-century German novelist, it’s actually based on the Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. It’s one of the more basic structures, including an introduction, rising action, climax, the fall, and a disastrous catastrophe. (It wouldn’t be a tragedy without a catastrophic ending, would it? Think the ending of the stage version of Little Shop of Horrors — everyone is eaten by the blood-thirsty plant, Audrey II.)
  3. The Hero’s Journey
    The Hero’s Journey has quite a few more plot points than some of the other narrative structures, but it falls similarly to the Three-Act Structure. The basic plot points are as follows:
    The Ordinary World. Your status quo, your protagonist is going about his daily life.
    The Call to Adventure. Think of this as your inciting incident.
    Refusal of the Call. Our hero doesn’t want to take on the journey.
    Meeting the Mentor. The protagonist meets the person who will teach them or prepare them somehow.
    Crossing the Threshold. Our hero steps out of his comfort zone.
    Tests, Allies, Enemies. Think of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, when Luke, Obi Wan Kenobi, and the droids pick up Han Solo and Chewbacca for passage to Alderaan.
    Approach to the Inmost Cave. Our hero is nearing whatever it is he wants; he nears his goal.
    The Ordeal. Our hero meets and beats his greatest challenge yet.
    Reward/Seizing the Sword. Our hero gains or obtains something they were after, and victory is in sight.
    The Road Back. Things are going backwards for our hero, and he realizes that seizing the sword might have made things harder for him.
    Resurrection. Our hero faces his ultimate challenge or battle, and the climax of the story rests upon everything the hero has learned over their journey. (Like Luke using the Force to fire at a 2-meter wide shot that he must make.)
    Return with the Elixir. Our hero returns to his normal life (or as normal as it can be).
  4. The Story Circle
    This is actually a narrative structure created by Rick and Morty co-creator, Dan Harmon. It is inspired by The Hero’s Journey, but instead of abstract beats, it simply makes the writer think about the character’s wants and needs by instead using beats like: Protagonist is in a Zone of Comfort, They Want Something, They Enter an Unfamiliar Situation, Adapt to It, Gets What They Wanted, Pay a Heavy Price, They Return to Their Familiar Situation, They Have Changed (whether for better or for worse).
  5. Fichtean Curve
    This narrative structure is fleshed out in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. It puts your protagonist through a series of crises and obstacles on his rising way to the climax. It bypasses the “ordinary world” or status quo of structures like the Three-Act Structure, and it begs for the protagonist to continue having to overcome obstacles in order to keep the tension of the story, therefore keeping the reader engaged to the very end.
  6. Save the Cat
    Similar to the Three-Act Structure, this narrative structure was created by screenwriter Blake Snyder, and it tends to remain a popular choice. It’s made up of 15 plot points, all in a certain order. Each “beat” is numbered by page, assuming you were writing a 110-page screenplay.
  7. Seven-Point Story Structure
    Similar to the Hero’s Journey, the Seven-Point Story focuses on the highs and lows of a narrative. It includes major plot points and beats called “pinch points” — basically, when something goes wrong for your protagonist.

Bear in mind that narrative structures aren’t an exact science, especially when writing a novel. They can be great tools in outlining your novel, knowing when and where to place your plot points.