What do Newbery Award Winning authors Lois Lowry (The Giver) and Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard), and an Oscar Award winning animated film (The Lion King) all have in common? This simple story structure outline.
- Complications and choices
Let’s unpack this brilliant little outline
Your main character is the explorer moving from plot point to plot point on your story’s map. She is your reader’s tour guide to your amazing novel littered with grandiose sentences and epic scenes. The main character, the protagonist, will take us on the journey through your entire book.
Begin your story with someone worth following. If a book’s character is annoying or boring, you will lose your reader. Your main character will be flawed, they must be. Like the writer, the protagonist should be riddled with secret sins and past regrets. hidden skeletons and dark secrets.
By conceiving a memorable character the writer allows the reader’s heart to connect to the guide leading him through the story. You want your reader to invest in the main character.
Our tour guide in this article will be Simba the lion from Disney’s, The Lion King.
In this movie, we have a flawed but lovable lion cup.
He is cute, personable, brave and daring, but he takes risks.
He is prideful and impetuous.
He wants to be a dictator rather than a humble king.
He is a child who loses his father in a terrible accident.
He is a child who was manipulated by his uncle Scar.
Send me on a journey. Start at point A and move me to point B.
Take me on a tour of your story.
You don’t have to leave your home or town or state or country or world, but take me someplace that only you know really well. Show me things only you can show me. Take that character you’ve made and have them take me on a fantastic journey.
Linda Sue Park suggests that there be two quests; External Quest & Internal Quest
External Quest: the main character(s) physically move around the stage or setting of your story, and as they move, things happen.
Let’s take a look at our external plot points.
- Simba the lion cub wans to be king, but there is one place Simba is not supposed to go… the “dark part” of the kingdom.
- His uncle scar baits Simba into disobeying his father and exploring the darkness.
- The prideful Simba leads his friend Nala into the darkness, into a den of hyenas.
- Simba is saved by his father Mufasa.
- Uncle Scar sets another trap in order frame Simba for the death of the king.
- Scar’s devious plan is successful and kills Simba’s father.
- Scar deceives Simba and convinces our hero that he was the cause of Mufasa’s death.
- Simba runs away and hides in an oasis full of bugs and inhabited by a mysterious, strange baboon.
- Simba meets two bug eating companions, a warthog (Pumbaa) and a meerkat (Timon). In short Simba finds allies.
- A female lion (Nala), Simba’s love interest, accidentally meets her old friend Simba in the oasis. She tells Simba that his uncle Scar has ruined Pride rock.
- Simba rejects his kingship.
- After a little help from the mystical baboon (Mentor) and a chance talking cloud that so happened to look like Simba’s father Mufasa, Simba changes his mind.
- Simba returns to pride rock.
- Simba fights his uncle and reclaims his kingdom.
Internal Quest: the main character goes on an emotional inner journey. They start at one emotional level and then move or change or grow from there.
Let’s look at our internal plot points.
- Simba wants to be a dictator because he believes he’s better than everyone else.
- After his father dies, Simba does not want to be King.
- Simba feels shame.
- Simba hides his shame away.
- After a ornery baboon knocks some sense into the young prince, Simba longs for justice.
- Simba returns to settle the score and reclaim his lost pride.
- Simba emerges the humbled victor.
COMPLICATIONS AND CHOICES
In story structure and plotting, we literary folks like to talk about this word “yearning.”
We say, give your character (protagonist) a yearning. Instill into their very heart something they desperately want. Disney Princess Movies do this all the time. It’s the “I have a dream,” songs. In Snow White, she wants to be noticed: ” I’m wishing, for the one I love, to find me today.” In The Little Mermaid, it’s the Mermaid princess wanting human legs and to be part of another world: “Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they play all day in the sun. Wondering free. Wish I could be part of that world.” In Beauty and the Beast it’s Bell wanting to break outside her social norms and live differently: “There must be more to this provincial life.”
In the Lion King, Simba’s true yearning is to be King. Much deeper, he wants to do something with his life that matters.
So give your character a yearning.
This is developed in the quest. Then throw roadblocks and obstacles in your main character’s way to prevent them from achieving their yearning. Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger. The evil queen attempts to kill Snow White. Ariel sells her voice to Ursula the witch and the witch prevents Ariel from finding love’s redeeming kiss. Do all manner of horrible things to your main character. Stall them from achieving their yearning.
Complications and choices in the Lion King:
- Simba almost gets eaten by hyenas
- Mufasa dies
- Scar runs Simba out of town
- Simba loses his yearning for kingship
- Simba must choose to overcome his past
- Simba rejects his kingship
- Simba must choose to be king
- Simba returns to his home, but it is overrun by hyenas
- Simba must fight his deceptive uncle
- Simba must learn the truth
Get the point?
This is the point of greatest tension. Here your main character must fight the ultimate battle. Ariel will be lost if the prince cannot kill the witch. Snow White grabs the apple. Sleeping Beauty’s prince battles the dragon witch. Beauty witnesses Gaston stab the Beast. All is lost. All is hopeless!!!!
Simba is backed to the edge of the cliff by his uncle Scar. He knocks Simba off Pride Rock, but Simba hangs on for dear life. Scar plunges his claws into Simba’s paws just like he did to Mufasa his brother. Scar whispers the truth in Simba’s ear, “I killed your father.” Just before Scar disposes of Simba….
This is the resolution of your story. What happens after the dragon has been vanquished. The witch slain. The Beast dead? This is where you tell your reader that the prince kissed sleeping beauty. That Ariel found her voice. That Bell kissed the Beast as the last rose drop fell.
Put simply, resolve the biggest question of the story here. Does he get the girl? Does he survive? Will the princess wake?
Simba launches from his the sheer cliff and defeats his uncle Scar. Scar is eaten by the hyenas. Rain washes the desolate kingdom clean and restores life to Pride Rock.
This is perhaps the most overlooked portion of story structure, but the most important. So many good stories don’t tell how the main character changed. I know that they are safe. that Sleeping Beauty wakes, but I don’t know much else. I want more and I close the story with a feeling of great disappointment.
The character needs to change or the storyteller needs to show what changed on account of the main character’s actions. Simba, who once ran from his right as king, embraces his destiny and takes back Pride Rock. Simba has changed. He went on an inner and outer quest and emerged, not the bratty prince, but, a kind and humble monarch, the King of the jungle.
Lois Lowry and Linda Sue Parks’ story structure is one of several. This is my personal favorite. Use whatever works for you.
Linda Sue Park novel structure: http://www.lindasuepark.com/writing/writing.html
The Lion King Movie