What is the Seven-Point Story Structure?
by Tom Ashford
Pretty much any good story can be split into three acts, whether the author had those acts in mind when writing it or not. And I’m sure most people reading this will have heard of the Hero’s Journey before. It’s the classic, circle-based story structure coined by Joseph Campbell, and it goes something like this:
Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
Meeting the Mentor
Crossing the Threshold
Tests, Allies and Enemies
Approach the Inmost Cave
Return with Elixir
(If you’re having trouble applying this structure to a story, just think of Star Wars: A New Hope.)
But there are other methods to plotting out a story, too. One of these is another classic method called the Seven-Point story structure. It can still be divided into the same three acts (as always) and the different points sometimes go by different names (I’m using some more obvious and recognisable terms here), but it’s another easy way to plot out the main events in your story before you get stuck in with all that, you know, character development stuff.
We begin with…
1.) The Hook/ Opening Scene
Would you believe it? You begin at the beginning! Here’s when you’d introduce your main character and their day-to-day situation. You’re establishing the status quo of your novel, essentially – the ordinary which is about to get extraordinary, the calm which is about to be flipped on its head. Usually this is the very opening scene of your story, though sometimes it can come after a villainous prologue of sorts. Either way, your reader needs to know what normality is as soon as possible in your story so you can start shaking things up.
Example: Luke Skywalker chilling out in his little desert farm.
2.) The Inciting Incident/ The Point of No Return
Here’s when you start shaking things up. Something needs to happen that will propel your main character out of their comfortable, normal existence and into your story – ideally, something drastic and not easily rectified. As suggested in the Hero’s Journey, this incident is likely something the protagonist can refuse at first… but soon enough something will happen that means they must commit to the adventure. Act One ends here.
Example: Luke meets Obi Wan Kenobi and learns about his father (Inciting Incident), then returns home to find his aunt and uncle burnt to a crisp (Point of No Return).
3.) Pinch No.1
At this point, your character(s) are still getting used to their new circumstances – they were living comfortably on a space farm until only a few minutes ago, after all. They’re not a hero yet. That means something needs to happen to put pressure on them into pursuing that path. That something is sometimes the introduction of a villain or challenge, whether big or small, which the protagonist needs to overcome. Sometimes it’s too big for them to overcome, so they merely need to survive it. Either way, they’re only reacting to a situation at this stage.
Example: Star Wars has a fairly subtle one – getting Han Solo to be their pilot and then escaping the Storm Troopers – but in Gravity this involves Sandra Bullock’s character getting to the ISS after her space shuttle is destroyed (she’s reacting to her situation, and even being pulled along by Clooney).
4.) The Midpoint
The Midpoint usually happens (yep, you guessed it) at the halfway point of your story, though it doesn’t necessarily have to (though be realistic, it’s not going to happen at the 20 or 80% mark). It’s a dramatic event, whether emotionally or in terms of an action set-piece, and something which will change your character going forward. It’s what changes your protagonist from reactive to proactive, often moving the plot in a new direction (or giving a new perspective to that direction).
Example: The crew of the Millennium Falcon are pulled into the Death Star, and Luke decides to rescue Princess Leia once he discovers she’s also onboard.
5.) Pinch No.2
Another new challenge/ problem, this time based around the plot’s new direction following the Midpoint event. Often this involves something going wrong (as with all problems), and the protagonist can either succeed in getting what they need to complete their mission, or fail and feel as if all is lost. They either march towards the climax of your story with a newfound confidence or require an ally to pick them back up. Act Two ends here.
Example: In Star Wars, Darth Vader kills Obi Wan Kenobi, so Luke goes from simply accompanying Obi Wan in delivering the Death Star plans to proactively helping the Resistance fight the Empire. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s character gets into the ISS ‘pod’ only to discover that it’s useless without fuel.
The stakes have never been higher. This needs to be the most dramatic moment in your story, when everything comes together for a big emotional (or at least explosive) payoff. The protagonist doesn’t have to succeed in any or all of their missions, but at the very least their personal character arc needs to be resolved.
Example: Luke leads the Resistance fighters to destroy the Death Star before it can blow up the rebel base.
Much like the hook/ opening scene, you need to close your story by returning to a sense of status quo (or as emotionally near to it as your story will allow). The villain needs to be vanquished and your protagonist needs to have learned something along the way (even if they didn’t get quite what they wanted). Of course, if you’re writing a series, you may want to leave one of the storylines a little open…
Example: Although Luke can’t go back to his life on the farm, he and his friends are hailed as heroes in the victory celebrations.
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