There are several plotting structures out there, but I've found Michael Hague's the most useful. Why? Well:
- It's fairly simple and easy to understand.
- It captures the essence of good story-telling. The shifts it recommends are what make readers feel satisfied with a book.
- If you take almost all of the classic movies, they follow this structure. So there must be something about it that works, and works well.
With that said, here it is:
So I'm going to use the movie, Pretty Woman, as an example to walk through these plot shifts.
- Stage I: Living Fully Within Identity. Edward is living is usual life: a wildly rich lawyer on the cusp of doing another predatorial business deal. He's about to tear apart a struggling ship building company and sell its assets for quick, big money. In his personal life, he's isolated and lonely, but he thinks this is what he wants. He gets lost and has a chance encounter with a hooker, who he ends up picking up, seemingly to help him with directions.
- Stage II: Longing For Life In Essence. Edward takes Vivian back to his five-star hotel suite and we see right away that he thinks more about her than just a regular escort. He offers to buy her a new wardrobe. He's leaning toward change, but he's still his old self: isolated and ready to gobble up the ship building company and destroy it.
- Stage III: Moving Toward Essence. Edward begins to open up to Vivian, and they start caring about each other. Edward admits he has daddy issues, and Vivian helps him feel real intimacy (for what we assume to be the first time in his life.)
- Stage IV: Fully Committed to Essence, But In Fear. Edward is falling for Vivian, but he's keeping her in hiding, so to speak. He takes her to dinner with the founders of the ship building company, who he knows are not the kind of people in his shallow, rich world who would judge her.
- Stage V: Living One's Truth With Everything to Lose. Edward decides to introduce Vivian to his world, taking her on an exquisite date to the opera. He falls for her more when he sees that she loves it as much as he does. He's struggling with his business decision: he's empathizing with the kind founders of the decades old, family-owned ship building company. His buyout would put hundreds out of a job. Edward has everything to lose: his wealth and professional reputation, which up until this point, has been his entire identity. When Edward takes Vivian to a networking croquet match, his law partner pushes Edward in to telling him that she's a hooker. The partner attacks Vivian, and Edward defends her honor by punching him. But Edward breaks it off with Vivian. He's not quite ready to lose all he's ever known.
- Stage VI: The Journey Complete. Edward abandons his old, empty life. He chooses Vivian and let's go of his business shark reputation. He doesn't disintegrate the ship building company for quick money. Instead, he decides to invest in it to help the founders save it. He gives Vivian her happily ever after, showing up in a white horse (a white limo) and climbs her tower (her fire escape) and rescues her, the fairy tale ending she'd dreamed about as a child.