Simple Story Spine

Story structure is a mainstay in the practice of writing strong, compelling content. I will certainly delve deep into crafting dramatic stories from a structural standpoint as I travel this blogging road. For now though, here is a a brief outline of a story spine.

The simple story spine was originally created by Kenn Adam’s in 1991, or so he says, but it bears a remarkable resemblance to my friend and fellow story analyst Christopher Vogler’s graphic (from The Writer’s Journey) which itself was based on Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero’s Journey.

No matter who originally gets credit, the simple story spine applies to mainstream drama, comedy, fantasy, sci-fi and adventure. That is to say, this structure has a happy ending with a sense of definite closure.

Smaller, independent films and novellas often explore quirkier characters and anti-heroes and may have a more open-ended structure with a melancholic or sad ending. Tragedy, unless it is a retelling of a classic such as Shakespeare’s Othello, are not in vogue at this time.

1. Once upon a time The beginning is concerned with introducing the main characters, the setting for the story and plant the seeds for its theme.

2. And every day Establish what their lives are like and what they want (especially the lead).

3. Then one day Something happens that throws the ordinary world off kilter. In the hero’s journey we call this the inciting incident.

4. Because of this The protagonist finds the courage to pursue the goal. The action he or she takes marks the beginning of act two in basic three act structure (beginning, middle, end).

5. And owing to that action The hero enters dangerous territory (which may be emotional jeopardy, physical danger or both). Risk escalates at a pace.

6. Passionate desire to win the prize in spite of the odds leads the hero deeper into the proverbial woods (in fairy tales the setting is often literally the woods or other wild, unknown territory).

7. Until he/she reaches the nadir The darkest moment. This is the face-to-face encounter with the beast, the antagonist or his/her own dark side.

8. A fight to the death ensues The hero narrowly defeats the thing that would kill him and emerges triumphant with a boon (this may literally be a precious gem, a power, a psychological win, the beloved or some combination of these).

9. Now it’s time to go home The road back to the ordinary world established in act one is fraught with danger. The protagonist must protect the prize and ultimately must defend it to keep it.

10. Ever since that day. The hero returns home to find he is not the same. His point-of-view is forever altered as is his relationships with the other characters. The world is a better place now because of the adventure.