Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Million Copies...What makes a page turner?

For almost year now, I have studied story structure. Larry Brooks and Syd Field convinced me that every best seller is framed with the proper story elements in the right order. I can write a book that lacks an essential element, but it will be a hard sell for me, an aspiring author.

I used Larry Brooks's list below as my entry into plotting. See if it helps you, whether you're a plotter, a pantser, or a fluid outliner.

What is the conceptual hook/appeal of your story?

What is the theme(s) of your story?

How does your story open? Is there an immediate hook? And then…
what is the hero doing in their life before the first plot point?
what stakes are established prior to the first plot point?
what is your character’s backstory?
what inner demons show up here that will come to bear on the hero later
in the story?
what is foreshadowed prior to the first plot point?

What is the first plot point in your story?
is it located properly within the story sequence?
how does it change the hero’s agenda going forward?
what is the nature of the hero’s new need/quest?
what is at stake relative to meeting that need?
what opposes the hero in meeting that need?
what does the antagonistic force have at stake?
why will the reader empathize with the hero at this point?
how does the hero respond to the antagonistic force?

What is the Mid-Point contextual shift/twist in your story?
how does it part the curtain of superior knowledge…
… for the hero?… and/or, for the reader?
how does this shift the context of the story?
how does this pump up dramatic tension and pace?

How does your hero begin to successfully attack their need/quest?
how does the antagonistic force respond to this attack?
how do the hero’s inner demons come to bear on this attack?

What is the all-is-lost lull just before the second plot point?

What is the second plot point in your story?
how does this change or affect the hero’s proactive role?

How is your hero the primary catalyst for the successful resolution of
the central problem or issue in this story?
how does it meet the hero’s need and fulfill the quest?
how does the hero demonstrate the conquering of inner demons?
how are the stakes of the story paid off?
what will be the reader’s emotional experience as the story concludes?


  1. Ana,

    This is GREAT! I'm hitting 'print' on the printer right now. Thanks for this post.

  2. As Ana knows, I've seen this before, but these are the questions I can only answer once I have actually finished the whole story. Then I can use it as a kind of check-list.
    But then I'm a pantser, not a plotter, and my characters define themselves as I write them.
    What is actually interesting to me right now is that I can answer a lot of these questions regarding my current WIP - but even so, it's my 'gut instinct' that is telling me that something is missing somewhere!

  3. This is a GREAT list, Ana! Thanks! I'm like Paula, and will probably have to use it after I've written, but it's so great to know this is there! Paula, can you add this to our Helpful Hints page?

  4. Have put a link to Ana's post on the Hints page.