Episode 28

4 Dramatic Elements to Create Your Story's Structure

America's Editor provides a step-by-step guide to help you solidify your story's structure. We also find out what books are trending and what books are not being printed.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"Plastic Furniture" by Jon Presstone

"Late Night Bossa Nova" by Neil Cross

"Brazil" by Humans Win

"Under a Brazilian Sky" by Daniel

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

In just a few minutes, we will have created your story’s structure, but first, we find out what books are trending and what books are not being printed.

I know some of you are going back to school, but summer in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t end until September 21st, so let’s play hooky just a little longer.

The Writing Break cafe is open. Meet me inside for a glass of something cool and the latest publishing news.

The world is short on paper but not on problems the paper shortage is causing. The Financial Times reported that printing schedules in Europe and North America are taking up to twice as long as before we received this global PC load letter error. And if you got that joke, you’re invited to my next dinner party.

its books since the start of:

Of course, you and I will be paying for all of it with prices increasing up to 15 percent.

set to release in January of:

A new K-lytics trend report says that paranormal and urban fantasy is once again the top-selling Amazon Kindle category out of all 111 fantasy subgenres . That makes three years in a row. Most urban fantasy titles on Kindle Unlimited are exclusive to Amazon, and being a dominant genre means there is a lot of competition. According to the report, urban fantasy is where you find “witches, vampires, half-gods, and the like who go unnoticed at Starbucks by day and run after each other with sharp-edged weapons at night.”

Publishers Weekly reported that religious and spiritual books are also trending, with books on witchcraft having a strong audience.

So if you’re hoping to share a little magic with your readers, now is the time to do it.

I will catch you up on the Department of Justice versus Penguin RandomHouse case next week, but here’s a little spoiler: the US Department of Justice has an antiquated view of publishing. Someone please invite them to the Writing Break cafe.

Links to these articles can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com.

Let’s get cozy for a minute on the Overthinking Couch for an overdue conversation between author and editor. That’s you and me, in case you were wondering.

You might have heard of the royal we, as in W-E. If not, here is a concise explanation from The New Yorker: “The English royal we, or pluralis majestatis, dates to the late twelfth century, around the time of Henry II and his successor Richard I, and meant ‘God and I,’ invoking the divine right of kings. It has since come to be understood that a monarch using the royal we is speaking for the state.”

So, a monarch might say something like, “we are considering” without ever stating to whom “we” refers.

Well, a similar thing happens in editing, which is referred to as the editorial we, “used by an editor or other spokesperson when speaking with the authority of their publication, profession, organisation or company.”

If you are a client of mine, I might have invoked the editorial we at least once in our relationship. For example, I might have said, “We want to hook the reader from the start.”

I’m sure I’ve done that during a writing break or two. Yet, you might have also heard me say another type of “we”. That is, for something that technically was just “me”. For example, I might have said “as we discussed last week” when it was only me doing the talking.

Naturally, I over-thought about why I do this. Then I worried it might be a pet peeve of yours, so I decided we . . . should take a moment to review this together. Here’s what I figured out. In the same way that I have encouraged you to write for your ideal reader, when I’m taking a writing break, I am only hanging out with one person, and that is you, my ideal listener. Do I hope that you are talking back to me, even if only in your mind? Yes, I do. In that sense, maybe it should be called the “podcast we” and be given a spot among these first-person plural pronouns.

I hope that explains it and you come to enjoy it. Now, we’re off to a bookshop.

We’re heading to a famous party city, and the independent bookstore we’re visiting has tables that seat anywhere from 2 to 8 booklovers, so bring your friends.

, has been in operation since:

Now that we are here, let’s check out a Brazilian author.

amed one of the best books of:

The book’s description reads as follows, “After a falling out, Cora and Julia reunite for a long-planned road trip through Brazil. As they drive from town to town, the complications of their friendship resurface. By the end of the trip, they must decide what the future holds, in a queer, coming-of-age debut novel that has been celebrated in Brazil.”

Let’s take it to the register and find a table where we can discuss today’s writing tips. You’re going to need a notebook, paper or digital.

This season we began working our way through the three-act novel writing process. I gave you brainstorming tips, and we reviewed the difference between plot and story. We discussed the characters that need to be in your book and how to create their character sketches, flaws and all. As you might have noticed, these writing tips are building on each other, so remember to review your notes or go back and listen to past episodes if there is anything you are not clear on.

Today you will create your story’s structure, which I think of as the lighthouse you have to build before you set out into the dark storm that is novel writing. Having your story’s structure will keep you from getting lost at sea.

First, let’s review four dramatic elements that will help you get started. Let’s say this is what puts the wind in your sails.

Passion: This is not necessarily about your story; it's about your motivation for writing the story.

Answer the following question: Why do you want to write this story?

Theme: This is the message you want your readers to take away from the story; this can be the same as passion.

Answer the following question: What message should readers take away from your story?

Flaw: The protagonist’s flaw is usually in opposition to the theme.

Answer the following question : How must your character change to reflect the theme?

At this point, you might realize that you picked the wrong flaw for your character. That’s an easy fix at this stage. You can change the flaw or minimize the original flaw you picked and add a new central flaw that opposes the theme.

For example, if you are passionate about the environment and your theme is that we need to address the climate crisis immediately, but the flaw you picked is that your protagonist is stubborn, you might want to keep stubborn and make the main flaw be that your protagonist is naive. So perhaps they are not aware of the climate crisis, they think it’s not a big deal, or they think other people are taking care of things and everything will be okay without them needing to get involved. As those options are counter to the theme, it leaves room for a lot of action and character development and, potentially, an interesting story.

Premise: If you’ve been following along this season, you have your premise already. If not, listen to episode 24 for more information on how to write your premise. Keep in mind that plot, story, and flaw work together.

Now, in a sort of audio madlibs, let’s solidify your story’s structure. I’ll do it with you.

On one line, write your protagonist’s main flaw.

I’m going to write, disconnected from his own humanity.

On the next line, write the problem the protagonist encounters.

I’m going to write, wants redemption.

On the third line, write the flaw the protagonist overcomes.

This is where you repeat the flaw, so I’m going to write, disconnection from his own humanity.

And on the last line, write the problem the protagonist solves.

I’m going to write, finds redemption.

Now, we’re going to work our answers into the following question:

What if a (flawed protagonist) (encounters some problem) and has to (overcome the flaw) to (solve the problem)?

So, with my answers, the question now reads: What if a person who is disconnected from his own humanity wants redemption and has to overcome his lack of humanity in order to redeem himself?

My example is based on The Count of Monte Cristo, in case you were wondering. That’s a pretty boring sentence for such a complex book, but that’s the point. We’re working on structure here, not story. What absolutely has to be in the book for you to feel that the reader has understood your passion and your main theme? While revenge is one of the many themes of The Count of Monte Cristo, what Edmond Dantès truly seeks throughout the story, after his revenge has been enacted, is redemption for everything he had to do to get his revenge. That is what adds depth to the protagonist and takes us beyond a payback type of story and makes it a classic.

How did you do? Do you have your story’s structure now? Good, now you can navigate all the character arcs, plot twists, and intensity you want to bring into your story and still find your way back to shore.

Next week, we’ll begin Act 1.

As always, thanks for listening, and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for Writing Break
Writing Break
An award-winning podcast for writers and readers

Listen for free

About your host

Profile picture for Rosemi Mederos

Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.