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Learn Story Structure by Analysis

I spent several years dissecting television shows, movies, and books to learn about craft. I would pause at the end of each scene or chapter and take notes. Here are a few of the questions I kept in mind as I watched or read.

1. What was the story premise? For example, a woman who doesn't believe in ghosts moves into haunted house. What made me tune in?

2. What was the story promise? Genre is my term for the promise you make to your reader about the kind of story they will settle in for. Is it a cozy Mystery, gruesome Horror, or light Romance? What was the central question that made me keep reading or viewing for the answer?

3. Did they keep that promise or bait and switch? I don't forgive bait and switch. I watched a comedy once that ended up being about sexual abuse. I was not amused.

4. Did they meet my expectations of the genre? Were there good gotcha moments in a Horror film? Were the romantic entanglements, complications, and resolutions believable in a Rom-Com? Were the suspects' motivations believable in a Mystery? Were they successful at pointing the finger at different suspects? Could I guess the ending? Were the twists good or did they ruin it for me?

5. What made me keep viewing or reading? Were they able to keep the tension up? When did I feel my body responding to the plot? Did I tense up? Did it make me cry? Did it make me laugh? Where and why?

6. What interrupted my enjoyment of the story? Were there scenes or chapters that wasted my time: too many redundant information reveals, plot holes, ridiculous character choices, and "are you kidding me!" moments?

7. Were the characters fully fleshed out and worth rooting for or did the plot devices keep the story moving despite bland or token characters?

8. What made me toss the book aside or quit watching?

9. Would I read another book by that author or view another season of the show?

10. Do I remember the story long afterward or was it immediately forgettable?

I learned a great deal about what works and what does not, the techniques that make a story successful and factors that cause them to fail. 
I revealed my findings in the Story Building Blocks series.

Last week, I listed the Top Ten Reasons I Quit Reading. Many book lovers have shared these sentiments with me.

Over the next few weeks I will share my analysis of a novel and a movie to give you an idea of the beats at the heart of a story.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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