Story Structure

by Ann
(East Brunswick, NJ)

Question: I want to write a novel about the experiences of four friends living in the 1950s. Can I write a few chapters at the beginning that show their relationship to each other and then as each of their stories develop, start writing a chapter about each character until the end where I would bring them back together?

Answer: Sure. This sort of "Together --> Separate Paths --> Together Again" structure can work quite well.

In fact, it's a common variation on the 4-act structure:

Act 1: Together (setup)
Act 2: Separate paths (the journeys begin)
Act 3: Crises (each character's personal crisis and/or external crisis on their journey)
Act 4: Together again (resolution)

What you need to do is create enough mystery or suspense in those opening chapters to make the reader want to keep reading. That might include not just setting up where the relationships stand but beginning the conflicts, challenges, or problems, so that the reader wants to know what's going to happen next as a result of what happens in those opening chapters. It's always best to begin with something happening, rather than the status quo.

For instance, what might happen that will change the relationships going forward? What's going to change each character's situation, and so set them on the journey they will pursue on their own?

And of course... when the characters get back together in the end, how will you show that they have changed and that the relationships have changed as a result?

Best of luck.

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