Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Major Elements of Story According to Nancy Ellen Dodd

I was lucky enough to recently learn about a writer, writing teacher and author of The Writer's Compass, a wonderful how-to-write tome that is now available for presale and which will be available for regular sale the second week of June. Her name is Nancy Ellen Dodd, and she teaches writing at Pepperdine University.

Dodd and I have been in contact, and I wanted to know what, in Dodd's opinion, were some of the most essential components of story.

Here's what Dodd said:


Of course we all know how critical the hook is. The hook is one of the areas most revised or sometimes one of the last things you write, after you are clear on your story. A hook can be the first sentence, the first paragraph, and occasionally the first page. You want to show the tone and perhaps the setting for your story. Is it funny, sad, cryptic, a mystery? Does it include an insight into your key characters? When writing the hook, you want to think about your target audience. What appeals to them? Are there concepts or words or current events that would trigger interest for your audience? Read hooks in stories in your genre for examples of good and bad ways to intrigue your audience.


The protagonist needs a goal. He or she may start with a goal that changes as the story progresses, or develop a goal that is challenged throughout the story or is attempting to thwart the antagonist’s goal. At some point during the beginning (first act) the protagonist clarifies the goal. While the goal is important so that the reader knows what to root for, it does not have to be static. The goal can change or evolve as the circumstances change and evolve.

First Turning Point = Conflicts—Internal and External:

The first turning point is when the protagonist has to face the conflict that will either cause him or her to take action. At that point, we should learn about the protagonist’s internal and external conflict. What is the actual event she or he is dealing with? How does the protagonist internally feel about the conflict? The protagonist may decide to meet the challenge and face the conflict or refuse it. If refused, a second turning point would then occur that forces the protagonist to move forward and begins the middle act.

Obstacles (3-7):

Obstacles are in the middle (second act) and are the challenges or events that your protagonist will face and fight in trying to achieve the goal. Sometimes the protagonist wins and sometimes the antagonist wins. The obstacles can be separate events or the story will be tighter if the outcome of each challenge then creates the setup for the new challenge. The number of obstacles depends on the type of story and the nature of the obstacles.


A revelation can occur anywhere in the story or be the reveal in the end (third act). The revelation can be something that the protagonist or antagonist doesn’t know but learns that explains the events. It can be something the audience wasn’t aware of that explains the story. If there are secrets and mysteries throughout the story, there should also be some reveals throughout the story so that the reader feels “let in” and not disenfranchised from the story. Too often writers want to keep secrets thinking they are increasing the tension in the story, however, too many unrevealed secrets only frustrate the reader.

I will blog some more about the book soon. Buy it on Amazon here.


  1. Great structure outlining! Thank you for breaking it down and in such vivid detail, too!

    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

  2. Lara, you ROCK! Thank you for joining my MC Blogfest! <3