Story Models (Approaches to Story Structure)

By Glen C. Strathy

Many writers have developed story models (that is, models of story structure) from Aristotle to today's screenwriting gurus.  If you've been on this site for a time,  you'll know that dramatica is one story model that I have fondness for. But while I feel it is the most comprehensive and covers the widest range of story types, others models have their merits, especially if you are looking for something simpler to get you started.

When you are working on a story, what you often need is a simple, clear story model so you can worry less about structure and focus instead on the characters, the specific incidents, and the actual words with which you express the story.

Bear in mind that the principles of sound story structure are the largely universal. But story is a complex thing to define, and many writers and teachers use different terms to describe the same elements. This is a vast improvement over the days when every writer essentially had to figure out for him/herself how to write a satisfying story. Nonetheless, the lack of a standard story model does make for a certain amount of confusion. (In fact, writers often feel motivated to come up with their own story model so that they have something unique to present in workshops, which can make things confusing for beginning writers who attend a lot of workshops.)

story structure

While you may find it helps your writing to stick with one comprehensive model that makes sense for you, it's also helpful to be familiar with some of the other models, so that, when you have conversations about stories with writers who use them, you can have a shared understanding.

Of course, what you have to watch out for is that some story models only describe one particular type of story, while ignoring other possibilities. For instance, some models only focus on stories with happy endings. Others may be very genre-specific.

Below please find links to articles where we compare some of the models of story structure you are likely to encounter.

Story Models You Should Know About...

dramatica theory

Using Dramatica Theory

Dramatica theory is arguably the most detailed and thorough model of story structure ever created -- so much so that many writers find it too complex. It is powerful, however, which is why we refer to it so often. Here we point out the basic concept behind it and the parts most useful for writers.

Syd Field

Syd Field's Model of Screenplay Structure

Legendary screenwriting guru Syd Field proposed a model of story structure that seems to be a forerunner of the W-Plot. Plus he offers a wealth of practical advice for writers of all forms of fiction.

the monomyth

The Monomyth Story Model

Also known as "The Hero's Journey," this classic model is ideally suited to Young Adult stories. Here we look at its origin and components, and correct some common misconceptions.

Michael Hague

Michael Hague's Story Model

Michael Hague, author of Screenplays that Sell, is one of today's foremost Hollywood story gurus. This article compares his theory of story structure with that of Dramatica.

w-Plot Thumb

The W-Plot

One of the easiest story models to use, particularly in genre fiction, is the W-Plot, as expressed by Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Story Starts Here. Here we compare it with Dramatica.

seven basic plots

Understanding the Seven Basic Plots

A comparison between Dramatica and The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories by Christopher Booker. Booker argues that most stories throughout history have followed one of seven (or nine) basic plots. Knowing these could help with your storytelling.

basic plots

The Seven...Actually Nine... Basic Plots Themselves

A closer look at Christopher Booker's basic stories, from the perspective of a four-act structure. Includes charts illustrating the progression of each act, which is valuable if you are writing in one of these genres

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