This is an approach to story structure taught to me by my old creative writing lecturer, Nick Pemberton. He calls it his ‘good sex’ strategy, although he freely a rollercoaster metaphor would be more appropriate. I’ll walk you through the idea using both metaphors for the sake of clarity.
As children we are all taught that a story has three segments - a beginning, a middle and an end. This is essentially useless. It’s like saying that a piece of string has one end, another end and is made of string. Unless you are a multidimensional being with no understanding of linear time this probably won’t help you at all. A much more useful approach would be to break a story into four structural segments – introduction, complication, climax and resolution.
Nick Pemberton’s ‘good sex’ strategy teaches that each of these structural segments should coincide with a change in the reader’s level of interest and excitement, and in the pace of your prose. The most notable change is the overall building of excitement towards the climax of the story but, just like good sex, there are always complications.
All liaisons, no matter how brief, begin with an introduction. This might be a handshake and a chat or a silent seductive glance. Ideally, of course, it’s best to get to know one and other a little before the passion begins. Ease your way into your story and don’t feel the need to rush into the action – you don’t want to peak too early.
Introduce your leading characters, your themes and (in the case of science fiction) your world concept. What does your main character stand for? What makes he/she tick? Don’t give away too much though; a little mystery is always a good thing and there needs to be room for development later on.
The introduction is typically one of the shortest segments. It’s where the rollercoaster begins to build up some speed.
The complication is typically the longest section of a story. It’s also the most interesting and, in my experience, the most challenging. This is where your story will either stand up to your readers’ expectations and get them hooked or completely fail to perform.
Rollercoasters are rarely all about the final big drop and sex isn’t all about that final moment of pleasure, not good sex anyway. Your readers have to be teased and excitement levels need to build over time. This will make your climax all the sweeter and the reader’s experience all the more satisfying.
This is where the meat and bones of your story will be. Rollercoasters have hidden dips, twists and turns, all the while building momentum. This goes for stories too. It’s the literary equivalent of foreplay so plan to make it as interesting as possible.
Stretch it out a little and have fun with it. Give your characters a hard time and make them jump over some hurdles. Fill your prose with those interesting little conceptual tit-bits that make science fiction so great. Most importantly, make sure your story moves at a good pace.
Once you’ve sufficiently wetted the appetites of your readers it’s time to really get stuck in and start building toward that big moment.
By now the excitement is really starting to build and things are getting pretty steamy. It’s time to take things to a whole new level.
The climax is where the story comes to head. Where your complication had several smaller peaks this section will have one big one. It’s that final rooftop showdown, that leap into oblivion, the “Luke, I am your father” moment. It’s what the punters have paid for. I don’t need to tell you what to do; this is the moment you’ve been planning from the beginning.
All things must come to an end, but they rarely end suddenly and abruptly. Rollercoasters don’t slam the brakes on right after the final drop, sex doesn’t end with ejaculation and immediate unconsciousness (if it does I’d recommend you see a doctor). Things need to wind down slowly and comfortably, allowing your readers time to come down to Earth regain their senses.
The resolution is typically a short segment but is important nevertheless. Cuddle a while, share a cigarette or open a tub of chocolate ice cream. Your story might have loose ends that need tying up.
This is also a good time to talk about the future. I’m not talking sequels here, a brief explanation of where your characters go from here will suffice. This is your opportunity to make a lasting impression on your readers so be charming and funny and they might come back for more.
Written by Mark Ball