Sure, a story needs a Beginning, Middle and End, but apart from that what else do you need to build a satisfying and effective story structure?
The answer is simple: Nothing.
In the same way that the four building blocks of DNA enable the creation of all life on Earth, so B, M and E, if positioned, combined and repeated correctly, can produce an endless variety of story.
BME. First, my definitions:
Beginnings explain what’s going on.
Middles show what you’re going to do about it.
Ends deal with the outcome. What it is, and how it affects people.
A man’s child is kidnapped. He goes to extreme lengths to find the child. He gets the child back.
That is a simple BME for a story. But within that overview, each chapter, each scene, each section of a scene has its own BME, sometimes multiple BMEs strung together.
But the thing about BMEs is that they don’t have to appear in that order.
A man is naked in a bedroom. He gets dressed and then climbs out of the window. He walks round the front as a woman says, “I thought your flight was coming in the evening,” to a man getting a suitcase out of his car.
When we see the man in the bedroom we don’t know what’s going on, we’re in the Middle. When he passes the front of the house we get the Beginning, the explanation of what’s going on. You could have just had him hear what she said from the bedroom door and then escape, but you don’t have to.
But, if I had the man leave out of the window and go off without ever explaining why (even though it’s pretty obvious he’s avoiding someone), that would leave readers annoyed and frustrated. You leave out one of the blocks and the structure collapses.
Each unit also can double up, so what is the End of one section can also simultaneously be the Beginning of another.
The man who finds his lost daughter has reached the end of the ‘looking for daughter’ part of his story. If she turns out to be possessed by a demon, that same scene is also the beginning of the ‘What do I do about my demon-daughter?’ thread.
Or the middle of one characters thread can intersect with the middle of another character’s.
If the man searching for his kid is fighting a bunch of men who are involved with the kidnapping, and a new character bursts in and shoots the men and tortures one for info, then clearly new guy is in the middle of his own story.
Imagine if I brought in this new guy to help out our hero, but never explained why he’s also after these guys. No Beginning. Or if he helped out and then disappeared? No Ending. Again, structure collapses.
BTW, it is possible to leave off Ends so that it is left open-ended or open to interpretation, but those are rarely satisfying.
Most people can understand the concept of Beginnings and Endings. You can still construct them out of shorter BMEs to make them more interesting, but you could reduce them to a single line if you wanted. It’s Middles that writers find most difficult in creating something that holds up and works across multiple pages and chapter.
The key to Middles is not to make them boring (usually because they’re too easy/predictable/static/passive/clichéd/inconsequential). That comes down to personal judgement. But in terms of structure, all you need is: this is what's up/this is me trying to do something about it/this is how that turned out.
You can present it in that simple a manner, but you can also get a bunch of these threads and mix them up. It’s like writing a tune with three chords—it can make an awful din, or the greatest rock song of all time.
How you sequence, layer and mix the basic units is up to you and your artistic judgement. But as long as you complete each BME, even if they’re in the wrong order or chapters apart, the structure will be sound.
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