Posted On November 9, 2012 by Print This Post

A Case For Story Structure by Adrienne Giordano

Today we’re excited to welcome back Romance University co-founder ADRIENNE GIORDANO, whose fourth book in her Private Protectors series came out this year.


I can almost hear the pantsers groaning.

Take it easy, gang, I’m not going to lecture anyone on whether it’s better to be a pantser or a plotter.


Today, I want to talk about story structure. According to editor Theresa Stevens (who gives a fantastic workshop on this topic), structure “is the organization of the component parts of a story and the way that those component parts interrelate.  Structure takes plot, character, theme, symbolism, diction, pacing, dialogue, setting, point of view, and every other component of story and narrative and braids them into an integrated whole in which each piece bolsters every other piece.”

I like to think of structure as the bones that make up the story. Just like bones in the body, if one of them is broken, it slows things down.

When I write, I like to follow the three-act structure used by screenwriters. Very briefly, three-act structure contains three different sections of a story linked by milestones. Act one contains all the set-up (character introductions, conflict, etc.) information. At around the twenty-five percent mark of the story, there will be a milestone (known as a turning point) that will spin your story in a new direction. This turning point catapults your story into act two.

In the middle of act two there will be another turning point. This is the mid-point of the story where your character is completely entrenched in his journey and can’t turn back.  At about the seventy-five percent mark, you’ll have another turning point that sends the story into act three. This turning point will be a major setback known as the black moment. Here is where your characters will fear all is lost, and they will have to fight their way back so they can destroy the antagonist.

If you’re like me and are a visual person, click here to see a chart of what three-act structure looks like.

I can hear you pantsers moaning at the mere mention of a chart. J

Hang with me here, pantsers because I’m about to say something that might shock you. I’m a combination pantser and plotter.  Yep, more than half of my story is usually done a la pantsing. I like to have a general idea of the beginning, middle and end of my story so I don’t stray. I once wrote a book that was 135,000 words. I simply couldn’t control the word hog inside me. If I have an outline, the beast is controlled, and I can let the rest of the story come organically.

Once I finish a solid draft of the book, I go back and fill in a scene chart (oh, the pantsers are really groaning now!) that shows every scene in the manuscript.

Stay with me, pantsers!

Even if you hate the idea of a chart, I think you’re really going to like this concept. Once I have my scene chart filled in, I check where all my turning points are. Are they somewhere around the twenty-five, fifty and seventy-five percent mark?  If not, I take a look at those areas to see if the story is dragging.  In the book I’m working on now, one of my critique partners had an issue with the pacing in the last third of the book. After filling in the scene chart, I realized what should have been my seventy-five percent mark was actually at eighty-five percent. This made the last third of the book drag.

So, yes, more than half of my book was done using the “pantsing” method, but I was still able to apply the elements of story structure to it and, in turn, discovered a pacing issue.

Here’s the really exciting part. You don’t have to fill in a chart to check if your turning points are in the right spot. You can simply go to the twenty-five, fifty and seventy-five percent mark of your manuscript. Is there a major milestone in the vicinity? If not, you might want to revisit that section.

Really, structure doesn’t care if you are a pantser or a plotter. Structure doesn’t care if you write the book standing on your head. Structure doesn’t care what your writing process is, but the framework should still be there. We wouldn’t build an airplane without diagrams would we? Can you picture that? J

I will make one final plea for story structure. I think it’s one many of you will relate to. I received a lot of rejection letters on my road to getting published. In all of those rejections, I never had an agent or an editor tell me my book’s pacing was off. I credit that to my attention to story structure.

Assignment: Go to the twenty-five, fifty or seventy-five percent mark in your work in progress. Do you have a turning point there? 

If you would like to study story structure, here are a few of my favorite resources:

Storyfix.Com – Larry Brooks does deconstructions of popular books and movies. Click here for the one he did on Shutter Island. – Michael Hauge offers wonderful workshops on plot structure. He also has DVD’s available. I have the DVD he did with Christopher Vogler and found it extremely helpful.

And speaking of Christopher Vogler, I highly recommend his book The Writer’s Journey. Excellent resource!



Do you have problems with story structure? If you’re a pantser, how do you deal with structure issues?

Join us Monday, November 12 when author MARIA MCKENZIE discusses “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: The Art of Writing Dialogue.”



Romance University co-founder Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery.  She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books please visit Adrienne can also be found on Facebook at and Twitter at


Adrienne’s books are available at:


Carina Press


Barnes and Noble

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22 Responses to “A Case For Story Structure by Adrienne Giordano”

  1. Hi Adrienne,

    I write the end first and work backwards. I write scenes and connect them as I go. Am I a plotter or a pantser?

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | November 9, 2012, 7:51 am
    • Hi, Mary Jo. You’re probably like me and are a combination. I always need to have a target, so I generally know what the last scene will look like before I even start writing. The setting might change and how the characters get there might change, but what happens in the scene usually stays the same.

      Like I said, I don’t know that it matters if we are pantsers or plotters as long as the story has structure.

      Thanks for being such a loyal RU follower!

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 9, 2012, 9:33 am
  2. Morning A!

    I’m a total pantser. I wish I wasn’t. =) I’m trying to write one book at the moment by writing the synopsis first, and frankly it’s like pulling chicken teeth. I DO need to get the structure down though. I’m currently going with the option of “after the book is written, go back and check at 25% and 75%” method. =)

    Someday I’ll get the hang of it!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 9, 2012, 9:05 am
  3. Hi, Carrie. I hate writing the synopsis. They always change by the time I’m done writing.

    I think we all have our own process. That’s what I love about story structure. It doesn’t matter what our method of producing a book is (mine seems to change with each project LOL.) as long as, in the end, we can go back and identify the milestones. And if the turning points are in the wrong place, we move them. 🙂

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 9, 2012, 9:37 am
  4. Hi Adrienne,

    I, too, am a combination plotter/pantser. The pantser part only gets me so far and then I have to plot a little to get me back on track.

    Thanks so much for the advice and I’m looking forward to putting your advice to very good use as soon as I finish my manuscript (hopefully in the next 30 days!)

    Congrats again on your hard earned success!


    Posted by Nicole Leiren | November 9, 2012, 9:47 am
  5. Hi, Nicole. I think a lot of us are a combo pantser/plotter. Whatever works!

    Good luck on finishing the manuscript. It’s always a terrific feeling!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 9, 2012, 10:21 am
  6. Love this post Adrienne! I also take a hybrid approach (part plotting, part pantsing) to writing. This works much better for me than when I tried pantsing alone.

    I am writing my first romantic suspense and I really saw the need to follow the three-act structure. Thank you for sharing these tips. This will be very helpful to me going forward.

    Posted by Roxanne | November 9, 2012, 10:50 am
  7. Great post, Adrienne! I’m a pantser, but I’ve learned I need some structure – identifying anchor scenes, mainly – early on to save me a gazillion rewrites later. I guess that’s sort of a hybrid approach!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 9, 2012, 11:06 am
  8. Hi, Becke. I try to consider rewrites my friend. 🙂 But you’re right, identifying the turning points definitely helps cut down on the number of plot revisions.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 9, 2012, 11:10 am
  9. Great post.

    I learned to write screenplays before novels so my charts have charts, lol.

    Posted by JB Lynn | November 9, 2012, 11:17 am
  10. Thanks for this. I’m a pantser trying to turn myself into a semi-plotter. Love your books, the pacing is great! I love reading a great book for examples of story structure. I’ve read a lot of books this year, and story structure is finally starting to sink in. Now, to apply it to my own work!

    Posted by Laurie Evans | November 9, 2012, 12:13 pm
  11. Hi, Laurie. Thank you for the kind words about my books. 🙂

    As far as examples of story structure goes, I personally think it’s easier to do with movies. I drive my husband crazy because we’ll be watching a movie and I’ll yell “1st turning point! Right there!”

    Try it when you’re watching a movie. Once you get the knack, you’ll be amazed at how obvious the turning points are. That’s why I love when Larry Brooks does his deconstructions. They’re great learning tools.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 9, 2012, 12:43 pm
  12. Hey Adrienne!

    I’m a combo plotter/panster. I’ll outline a story but will often veer off course. I have to know how the story ends before I can start. The ending usually changes but like you said, I need a target. I’ve also written scenes out of order, which helps me when I’m stuck on a previous scene. I can back track and figure out where the character should be on an emotional/motivational level. Works for me!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 9, 2012, 4:10 pm
    • Hi, Jen. I write scenes out of order too. I figured if inspiration hits for a certain scene, I need to get it written. What always amazes me is that those scenes usually don’t need a ton of rewriting. I attribute that to story structure also. 🙂

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 10, 2012, 8:48 am
  13. Charts? Turning points? Black moment? **Shudder**

    3-act structure? Good Lord, I think I went blind on that one. LOL

    You know me, A. I wouldn’t know a turning point if it whacked me in the head. Having said that, I do like to have the backbone of the story scoped out–what are the internal/external conflicts for the romantic and suspense arcs? Throw in a few other fun tidbits about the characters–like their occupation and tics and I’m good to go.

    And then the really hard part starts–Writing the story. 😉

    Thanks for the great post. Having a friend like you — someone who points me in the right direction when I get lost is also a valuable tool. Couldn’t get through 90K without you!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 9, 2012, 7:01 pm
  14. Thanks for the link to the Three Act info. Best one I’ve seen and I’ve got a million of ’em bookmarked. Still, first time the Second Act makes sense to me. Always knew it had a turning point at the end, but there are actually two turning points, and right before the midpoint, the “First Culmination”. A-ha! Now I get it.

    Posted by PatriciaW | November 15, 2012, 2:52 pm


  1. […] This post won’t be entirely about plot structure, but before reading on you might want to click here for a quick refresher on terminology I’ll […]

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