Steve Berry's Advice on Story Structure - Jo-Ann Carson

Steve Berry's Advice on Story Structure

The 6 C’s of Story Structure:

It’s Not Everything – It’s Absolutely Everything

notes from a lecture given by Steve Berry at the 2013 Thrillerfest

July 10, New York City

  • Stories must have structure
  • the number one problem in stories by new writers is that they lack structure
  • 3 parts: Act 1,2,3

He drew three columns on the board and labelled them by Acts.

Act 1 (20%) Act 2 (60%) Act3 (20%)
C = characters -the fewer the better (<5) C– complications C= crisis
C= conflict 1 or 2 subplots C = conclusion
C = crucible
Pace – steadily up (noble plot line) Pace – bumpy Falling action
  • This is “story” at its elemental form
  • Start a book as close to the end as possible (you have to know the end)
  • He likes his stories to take place in 24-48 hour time frames, but has gone up to a 2 week frame
  • Characters: POVs between 2 and 5
  • Conflict – the best is that which touches the human heart because everyone can relate to it (eg., father /daughter conflict)
  • Tries to make the conflict more internal
  • Suggests the following format: (Chapter 1 – Introduce the protagonist, 2- Antagonists, 3 another POV etc. to 5)
  • Have to introduce POV characters immediately
  • Cruciblethe thing that makes the protagonist do something he normally wouldn’t do
  • Must be: Immediate direct and plausible
  • Complications – need a lot
  • Crisis – The subplot resolution must be vital to the resolution of the main plot
  • Everything in your book must do 1 of 4 things: maintain suspense, advance plot, develop character, add comic relief – otherwise it is filler
  • Best to have everything do 2 to 3 of the 4 things
  • Learn to stretch out the subplot
  • Conclusion – Don’t aggravate the reader by not tying things up at the end
  • He experienced 12 years of rejections, 85 in total, for 8 manuscripts
  • It took him 8 years to learn the structure above, but he swears by it.
  • “No one in the world can teach you to write, but there are some who can teach you how to teach yourself how to write.”
  • He only kills people if he has to
  • His editor begins to read his work when he’s half way through writing it
  • You need to start with a good opening sentence (It should never be a weather report or dialogue)
  • Every time you start a new story try something new
  • His process “inventory”: 90% thinking 5% writing
  • he plots 100 pages ahead.

If any of the notes don’t make sense, trust me, it’s my error and not Steve Berry’s. His lecture was clear and concise proving that he’s not only a great writer, but also a a great teacher.

Note: Next Wednesday I’ll share my notes on John Sandford’s Thrillerfest lecture, “Small Things: Techniques and Ideas to Burnish Your Text”