Organic Architecture: Links to the Whole Series

Organic Architecture SpiralI want to thank everyone for reading my Organic Architecture Series! I realize this was a long series with lots of posts. The following are the links to all the different articles. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference!

Happy plotting, structuring, and designing, everyone!

Organic Architecture Series:

Classic Design and Arch Plot:

Alternative Plots:

Alternative Structures:

Designing Principle:

Full Bibliography for this Series:

Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. New York: Adams Media, 2011.
Anderson, Tobin. “Theories of Plot and Narrative.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Critical Thesis. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. July 2009.
Bechard, Margaret. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2008.
Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narative Craft. 8th Edition. New York: Longman, 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Second Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Campbell, Patty. “The Sand in the Oyster: Vetting the Verse Novel.” The Horn Book Magazine. Sept.-Oct.2004: 611-616.
Capetta, Amy Rose. “Can’t Fight This Feeling: Figuring out Catharsis and the Right One for Your Story.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. Jan 2012.
Carver, Renee. “Cumulative Tales Primary Lesson Plan.” Primary School. 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Aug 2012.
Chapman, Harvey. “Not Your Typical Plot Diagram.” Novel Writing Help. 2008-2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.
Chea, Stephenson. “What’s the Difference Between Plot and Structure.” Associated Content. 16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Doan, Lisa. “Plot Structure: The Same Old Story Since Time Began?” Critical Essay. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2006.
Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Revised ed. New York: Delta, 2005.
Fletcher, Susan. “Structure as Genesis.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1927.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.
Gulino, Paul. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Hauge, Michael. Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: Collins Reference, 2001.
Hawes, Louise. “Desire Is the Cause of All Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Kalmar, Daphne. “The Short Story Cycle: A Sculptural Aesthetic.” Critical Thesis, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Kaufman, Charlie. “Charlie Kaufman: BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture Transcript.” BAFTA Guru. British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Aug. 2012.
Larios, Julie. “Once or Twice Upon a Time or Two: Thoughts on Revisionist Fairy Tales.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Layne, Ron and Rick Lewis. “Plot, Theme, the Narrative Arc, and Narrative Patterns.” English and Humanities Department. Sandhill Community College. 11 Sept, 2009. Web. 7 May 2011.
Lefer, Diane. “Breaking the Rules of Story Structure.” Words Overflown by Stars. Ed. David Jauss, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 62-69.
Marks, Dara. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Ojai: Three Mountain Press, 2007. McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
McManus, Barbara F. Tools for Analyzing Prose Fiction. College of New Rochelle, Oct. 1998. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.
Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Story Structure Architect. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2005.
Sibson, Laura. “Structure Serving Story: A Discussion of Alternating Narrators in Today’s Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
Tanaka, Shelley. “Books from Away: Considering Children’s Writers from Around the World.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Tobias, Ron. Twenty Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Story- teller. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 2007.
TV Tropes. Three Act Structure. TV Tropes Foundation, 26 Dec. 2011. Web. 11. Sept. 2012.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd Edition. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
Williams, Stanley D. The Moral Premise. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2006.

Three Act Structure: A Pair of Spanx for Your Novel

March Dystropia MadnessBy Sheryl Scarborough

If the writer’s closet of useful tools could be likened to Carrie Bradshaw’s fabu walk-in,  masterful accessories such as simile and metaphor would equate to exquisite Louboutin’s and Jimmy Choo’s footwear… exotic word choices would sparkle like Tiffany’s finest… and you would most likely find three-act structure in the drawer labeled: Spanx!

This is my way of saying Three-Act Structure may not be sexy, but once you try it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. What exactly can Three-act structure do for you? I’m glad you asked.

  • Simply organizing the main points of your manuscript into a structured beginning, middle and end will give you a comfortably shaped body of character, narrative and pace.  (Spanx, baby!)
  • Three-act structure streamlines the creative process, allowing you to focus on great dialog and important story points, not the organization of them.  (When you’re busy being brilliant who wants to organize?)
  • Which part of your story belongs in each act can be defined in enough detail that, once you learn it, you will never forget it.  (Can you just give me the crib version? Yes. Read on!)

There are plenty of whole books, which define Three-Act structure and demonstrate how it works. For the purpose of this blog I’m just going to give you the basics. Three-Act structure is a specific way to balance and pace your story. The breakdown is simple:

Three Act Structure

Each Act encompasses a certain number of pages. This is the pacing part. Each act also plays a specific role in telling your story. This is the structure part.

In Act 1 the purpose is to introduce your characters and orient your reader to the setting and world you imagine.

Act 2 is where your story develops; this explains why it’s twice as long as Act 1 and Act 3.

Act 3 should be reserved for the exciting climax and conclusion of your story.

Act 1: Think of a Knight on a Quest… 

Act 1

Act 1 should answer WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE… but not why. It should install your character in his world in a way that quickly orients your reader. Use Act 1 to identify your main character’s problems and introduce us to his friends and foes. Establish his goals and make us care about him.

If you’ve done your job, Act 1 is when your reader develops empathy with your main character. You need for this to happen… don’t blow it. The transition at the end of Act 1 is the point where your character commits to a course of action and your reader settles into her chair and thinks, “okay, here we go.”

Act 2: Facing the Two-Headed Dragon… 

Act 2

If Act 1 is a Quest, then Act 2 is a series of challenges… sort of like facing a two-headed dragon!  In Act 1 your reader has learned WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. By the time she reaches Act 2 she wants to know WHY.

In Act-1 your job was to establish your character’s goal.

In Act 2.1, your job is to play keep away with that goal.

Just like in real life, adversity creates character.  The goal of the first half of Act 2 is to throw a series of try/fail obstacles into your character’s path. With each test your character’s commitment becomes apparant. Each time he fails, you deepen his character and reveal more about him… this is how readers find out what he wants and needs and especially how invested he is in his goal.

Not only will your character come alive through these challenges, but as you raise the stakes your reader will become more involved, intrigued and invested in your story.

Act 2

The length of the trial and error portion of your story is dictated by Three-Act structure. In the first half of Act 2 you are writing toward the mid-point, which is a mere 25% of your total story.

The Mid-point: It Changes Everything…

The Mid-point can be a down moment – the catastrophic end of your character’s goal. Or, it can be an up moment – a moment of shaky success that’s so tenuous and delicate your reader will be worried that this is just one more thing for the main character to lose.

Just remember, the purpose of the Mid-point is that it changes everything.

The Second Half of Act 2: Rebuild the Character’s Goal… 

Depending on your Mid-point you have either destroyed your main character’s goal or you have pushed it to such a pinnacle that it is in jeopardy. In either case, the second half of Act 2 asks “now what” or “what now.” This is where you begin to rebuild your main character’s goal. To keep the reader intrigued you must keep the pressure on your main character. Achieving his goals should be hard and take real grit and determination. This is what keeps a reader in their seat.

Act 2

You also want to begin to bring your storylines together in the last half of Act 2 so that you won’t crowd the climax and conclusion of your story with loose ends.

The End of Act 2: Your Character’s Darkest Moment

Pull out all the stops and really make this moment count. This is the low point your reader has been worried about for your entire novel. And now you must give it to them. Slam your story down on your main character with all the brutality you can muster and I guarantee your reader won’t be able to stop reading.

If you have built your story to this moment, the hopes and dreams that your reader has for your main character will carry them over the end of Act 2 and straight into the climax and conclusion.  They won’t be able to put down your book.

Act 3: The Unexpected and Long-Anticipated…

“Act 3 begins with the unexpected and ends with the long-anticipated.“ 

                                                            Author, Ridley Pearson

What this means, is as you conclude your story, you want to make the ending as exciting and unexpected as possible… and yet you want to fulfill your promise to the reader and wrap up the story they expected you would tell. In most cases, your main character will achieve a satisfying goal – maybe not the goal he started out with, but one the reader will accept as a good conclusion to your story.

Example: staying with my Knight on a Quest theme, the end of my story should involve rescuing the Princess – or in my case – The Prince.

Act 3

But don’t forget to keep an element of surprise… your reader will be working with you to create a successful conclusion to your story.


My surprise that my Knight was really my Princess will be all the more delicious to my reader.

Three-Act structure is writing with purpose!

For more information, check out some of these books that do a good job explaining Three-Act structure:
King, Vicki. How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. Print.
McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: ReganBooks, 1997. Print.
Schmidt, Victoria. Story Structure Architect. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest;, 2005. Kindle Edition.
Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat!: the Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions, 2005. Kindle edition.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd ed. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007. Print.
Or, you can write to me at

Sheryl Scarborough - Photo by Russell Gearhart PhotographySheryl Scarborough learned Three-Act structure during her 20 year stint as an Award-winning writer for children’s television. Now, a recent graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in writing for children and young adults, Sheryl has turned her creative attention on writing young adult mystery/thrillers.

Follow Sheryl on Twitter: @scarabs

Read more by Sheryl on her blog: Sheryl Scarborough Blog

The blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Series.

Obsessed with Story Structure

Today you’re going to get a glimpse into my own personal kind of crazy. It turns out I’m slightly obsessed with story and novel structure.

Slightly is an understatement.

In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about story structure lately. Partially because I’m going to be giving my VCFA graduate lecture on the topic in January, but also because I’m in the midst of structuring (or more accurately re-structuring) my current novel-in-progress.

After spending a lot of time this week color coding, cutting, pasting, and outlining, I created (and posted on Facebook and Twitter) the following  structure chart image:

A lot of people who saw this image were both fascinated and confounded. But mostly, they wanted to know what I’d done here and why. So, today’s post is going to be about how I created this chart and what exactly is going on in it.

DISCLAIMER: This process helps me. I’m a visual learner. This is something I’ve developed to help me get a big picture look at my novel. I have no idea if it will be helpful to anyone else. If this all sounds like gibberish to you – then it probably is!

Step One: Write the First Draft

Some people like to think about structure before they begin their novel. If you are one of those people – awesome! I’m not. I usually have no clue where my novel is going and I let my characters take me for a ride to find out. But if you find any of the following good to think about while you write your first draft – fantastic! But don’t worry if you don’t want to think about structure till draft two.

Step Two: Broad Strokes and Color Coding

Once I have a draft, I like to type up the whole novel based on major scenes and events. Because my current WIP is in vignettes, I went a step farther and typed up each vignette. In each strip, I noted four pieces of information. First, the POV of the character (my novel is in dual POV). Second, the title of the vignette so I can find it later when I revise. Third, the location of the scene. And fourth, the major action and/or emotion of the scene.

After I typed all this up I proceeded to add color coding. This included colors for the major plot line, all the sub-plots, flashbacks, each narrator, etc. The amount of colors always depends on the complexity of the book. This book has a lot going on that I wanted to track…hence the thirteen different colors.

Step Three: Cut, Paste, and Re-Arrange

At this point, the process becomes a bit like a craft project. I cut out each vignette strip and played the re-arrange game. I looked for patterns, high points, low points, momentum, pacing, etc. I started to play around with the best way to construct this story. I asked myself questions like: Do I start with flashbacks? When do I get to X-reveal. Is there too much dead time between X-reveal and the midpoint? What can I cut out completely? Etc. This part takes a lot of time for me. I spend hours moving around and re-arranging the pieces.

Step Four: Start Graphing

I got out my graph paper and went to town!

For this structure chart I decided to let one graph-paper square equal one vignette. However, I’ve done this process with a non-vignette novel before, and I used page numbers (i.e. one square equals one page, or five pages, etc.).

There were four things I wanted to look at with my graphs and they were:

Three Act Structure:

This top graph is classic three-act structure.

  • Blue = Act One
  • Orange = Act Two
  • Green = Act Three

The yellow boxes denote major plot points, or moments that shift the energy of the story in an important way. In the text along the top I’ve outlined (roughly) the major beats of The Hero’s Journey structure (i.e. the call to action, threshold, midpoint, crisis, etc.). This particular book doesn’t really fit into three-act/hero’s journey structure nicely, but I was curious to see where the major beats fell.

The Major Relationship:

This second graph is a more accurate image of my novel. It’s a pattern that arose from the novel itself. Since my book is primarily a romance story, I see this chart as the push and pull of that relationship.  The novel is in dual POV, so the pink lines are my female character, and the blue lines are my male character. The red is where the two character’s overlap/interact. This helps me to see the motion and interaction of the major relationship of the story.

Chapters and Flashbacks:

This is my novel broken down chapter by chapter. The red is (again) the interaction between my protagonists. The yellow, however, is flashbacks. This is something I’m struggling with in the novel (when and where do I reveal background information). This allows me to see where the flashbacks are clumped as I move into revision.

Sub-Plots and Secondary Characters:

And lastly, this chart shows subplots and secondary characters. This allows me to see if a character disappears from the story for a hundred pages, or if I introduce a secondary character too late, etc.

Putting it Together…

I drew all four graphs – one above the other – so that I could use the same unit of measurement throughout. This way I can compare the charts to each other. If there’s a lull in the story I can look through the graphs and see why (maybe I’m developing a sub plot, or there’s way too many flashbacks clumped together). I can look at the big picture and see patterns, or pacing, or trouble areas (like it takes way too long to get into act two right now).  Charting like this really helps me to see the current architecture of the draft and what to be aware of when I revise.

Feel free to try this process (and develop it to meet your concerns and needs). You can create a chart for anything and color code based on what you need to pay attention to (action moments, time, dialog, character arch, whatever!). There’s no right or wrong way to do this. It’s just a tool to help see the big picture.

Let me know if you have questions. I realize this may be written in a form of geek-structure-speak that only I can understand, so let me know if there’s anything you want me to clarify. Happy charting!