Matt Bird Story Structure

Tags: Writing Story Structure

In Secrets of Story, Matt Bird outlines the following story for structure:

First Quarter: A hero with a long-standing problem is presented with an intimidating opportunity and an unexpected conflict. The character will often face some kind of social humiliation that illustrates their problem.

Second Quarter: The character tackles the challenge "the easy way," using tactics that they are familiar or comfortable with and without any self-examination. This ends in a colossal failure or, sometimes, a false victory.

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    Tags: [[Writing]] [[Story Structure]]

    In her 90-Day Novel course, Louise Dean proposes a 5-step structure that she says is derived from Aristotle, Horace, and John Coetzee:

    Flaw: The hero is i...

Third Quarter: The hero must look inward to find a new approach ("the hard way") to apply to the same problem. This also fails, provoking a spiritual crisis. Characters are often betrayed at the end of the third quarter, or partner with a new or unlikely ally.

Fourth Quarter: The hero emerges from the spiritual crisis with new understanding and a corrected philosophy. They are now able to pursue a corrected goal.

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    Tags: [[Characterization]] [[Writing]]

    A novel illustrates the transformation of a character into someone capable of overcoming their fatal flaw. The trajectory of that transformation is revealed ...
    : The events of the novel are the engine of the protagonist's new self-understanding

In a podcast episode, Bird clarified that "the easy way" and "the hard way" do not necessarily mean that the approach is easy to implement or accomplish. Rather, it means that it is the easy or hard way in terms of the character's self-understanding. The easy way relies on the character not undertaking any critical self-examination or changing themselves, whereas the hard way should show that the character has learned something in the second quarter and/or has some deeper understanding of themselves and the world.


Bird 2016