8 Reasons Every Author Should Learn Story Theory

7 Reasons You Need Story Theory

8 Reasons Every Author Should Learn Story TheoryJust as in fiction itself, the writer’s life is marked by several major turning points–perhaps the most important of which is discovering story theory.

In the story of your writing life, the Hook, of course, is that moment when you find yourself entranced with your first story idea. Maybe you were three years old–as I was–spinning yourself a tale in a treehouse at a family reunion (which just happens to be my earliest memory). It’s the beginning of everything: a tantalizing fascination with the unknown possibilities of what’s gonna happen. It pulls you in and never lets go–just as a good story should.

The Inciting Event is when you first put pen to paper. Now you’re not just an Imaginer–you’re a Writer.

Then comes the First Plot Point: the moment when you realize there’s actually a method to the madness of writing. There are rules to follow. Goodbye, head hopping. Goodbye, telling instead of showing. Goodbye, random, episodic storyline. This is a moment of much excitement–a whole new horizon opens before you. But it’s also a little scary, as you realize how much you don’t know about writing.

Then commences the Second Act of your writing life, a long period of reaction and struggle and, yes, conflict. There are pinch points along the way, as you realize how hard writing can be when you have to try to measure up to millennia of literary knowledge and evolution. You’re steadily improving as a writer, but this is also where you’re probably writing some of your worst stuff.

And then.

And then comes the Midpoint–the Moment of Truth–when you encounter what is arguably the most important revelation in your story. This is where you learn about story theory.

For me, my introduction to story theory arrived on the day when I first learned about story structure. Light bulbs flashed. Angels sang. There was no going back.

What Is Story Theory?

“Story theory.” It’s a term that might make your eyes glaze over–redolent as it is with the the misty concepts of philosophy and experimentation. But, then again, if you’re like me, it might just make your eyes light up like the 4th of July.

I’ll play doctor for a second and say that if your eyes are glazing right now, then it might just be because you’ve yet to reach that Midpoint Moment of Truth where it all becomes clear.

I did a little bit of googling to prepare for this post, only to discover something interesting. There really isn’t much info out there on the subject of story theory. (Google the phrase and what you get is all Dramatica, all the time. Exclude Dramatica from the search results and what you get is mostly fan “theories” about Disney movies.)

To define story theory, let’s paraphrase Wikipedia’s presentation of music theory:

Story theory is the study of the practices and possibilities of story. It is derived from observation of, and involves hypothetical speculation about how writers make stories.

In other words, story theory is all about analyzing the existing body of literature to find its patterns and rhythms. What makes it work consistently? Naturally, a lot of these theorized patterns come down to plot structure. There are many different systems that all teach variations on basically the same universal approach to storytelling. We have such approaches as:

All are different approaches to the same journey of story–rising and falling action–and all are worth studying, since they all bring their own insights to the table.

Think of story theory as the heart of storytelling. Although theory has connections to just about every actionable part of writing, it is primarily concerned with the nature of story itself, rather than the finer mechanics (such as grammar, the do’s and don’ts of POV, and dialogue).

Why You Should Hang Onto Story Theory Like a Drowning Sailor to a Lifesaver

Do you have to learn about story theory in order to be a good writer? No, not officially. But think of it like this: story theory is creative instinct actualized. It’s talent transformed into skill. Following are 7 vital reasons every author should be chasing story theory like a kid after a kite.

1. Story Theory Helps You Organize and Understand Your Writing

Here’s a possibly provocative statement: organizing your writing and understanding it go hand in hand.

Writers find themselves in vastly mixed camps these days when it comes to the idea of organization–aka plotting–aka outlining. Many writers contend that over-organization kills the creative spark.

Woman scratching her head at light bulbs on chalkboard

An understanding of story theory does not impede creativity: it accelerates it.

But here’s an interesting trend I’ve been noticing. Every time I run upon an article or a post written for pantsers (those writers who prefer to “write by the seat of their pants” rather than outline their stories), it always ends up being a not-so-subtly-disguised means of seducing the pantsers over to the Dark Side of outlining and organization.


Easy. Because, ultimately, almost all the problems pantsers struggle with come down to a lack of organization and therefore a lack of understanding about the nature of story in general and their own stories in particular.

Story theory can help with that. Since theorizing is all about learning to understand something, it’s also inevitably about learning to organize the nature of storytelling. This doesn’t mean pantsers still can’t pants (the ability to pants is as important to all writers as is the ability to plot). But it does mean that an understanding of how story works–everything from structure to character arcs to theme–will show you how to understand your own stories’ needs, and to plan them accordingly.

2. Story Theory Eliminates Writer Confusion by Revealing Applicable Patterns

Raise your hand if you’ve ever found plotting overwhelming.

For all that stories are frequently reduced to the old fairy-tale formula of Once Upon a Time/Happily Ever After, they are absolutely, convincingly, 100% not simple.

Just the opposite. Stories are tremendously vast, complex, sprawling beasts. Indeed, as reflections of life, they are just as vast, complex, and sprawling as life itself.

In short, they’re complicated. Creating a seamless, perfectly resonant story can sometimes feel like looking at a tabletop scattered with puzzle pieces and being expected to immediately know exactly where every piece fits. No wonder we end up juggling pieces and dropping them all over the floor half the time.

Man's face in puzzle pieces

Sometimes trying to understand a story is like trying to see where every puzzle piece belongs all at once.

But story theory helps with that too. Story theory is all about identifying the universal patterns that exist in storytelling, across the globe and throughout the ages. The better you understand these patterns, the more clearly you can see where the pieces fit in your own stories.

You learn story theory by studying other stories–books and movies. You learn to identify the patterns–what works, what doesn’t, what makes you feel and react in a certain way. You begin to be able to break down the patterns in other people’s stories so you can better understand and study them.

3. Story Theory Helps You Identify and Avoid Mistakes

So many of the frustrations of the writing life come down to the instinctive knowledge that something is wrong with your story–only you don’t know what. How many times have you ripped apart a broken story and put it back together again, only to realize it’s still not right?

why you should be mercilessly hacking apart your own stories

Without an understanding of story theory, you end up ripping apart your manuscripts and putting them back together, time and again, without understanding how to actually fix their problems.

A writer’s instincts are incredibly powerful. Indeed, the truths of story theory are already deeply ingrained within the human psyche. But instinctive knowledge can only take you so far. Your untrained conscious brain will get in your way. It will make you doubt the wrong things and believe in other wrong things.

After all, how can you ever know you’re doing something wrong if you don’t know how to do it right? Story theory teaches you what is right and why it is right. It allows you to harmonize your powerful storytelling instincts with story knowledge upon which you can act confidently and purposefully. It harmonizes your creative instinct with applicable skills.

4. Story Theory Shows You How to Mimic the Masters

We’re all trying to write the perfect story. The previous generation of writers didn’t get it right, so we try to learn from them–both their mistakes and their successes–just as the next generation will try to learn from us. Story theory is firmly grounded in the actuality of story itself. You can’t study story theory without studying stories.

Holding an open book with dust coming out.

The single best way to learn story theory is to read books and watch movies.

But it’s also true you won’t learn much from the masters who have gone before if you aren’t able to understand what it is they’ve actually done. As Jeff Somers said in the May/June 2016 Writer’s Digest article “Plantsing: The Art of Plotting and Pantsing”:

It’s tough to replicate a trick you didn’t understand in the first place.

An exploration of story theory will teach you how to get the most out of every story you encounter–good or bad, written or visual, your favorite genre or not. Every story ever written feeds into the overall study of story theory. It first teaches you about theory, and then allows you to use that theory to analyze what you’re experiencing. In his article “10 Reasons to Study Music Theory and Aural Skills,” David Werfelmann makes a comment that is as pertinent to writers as musicians:

Music theory is nothing more than a codification of the works that are the most meaningful to us. If we neglect to show why the rules and procedures are so important–that is, how they produce effective works of art–we miss the point of theory entirely.

5. Story Theory Takes You From Storyteller to Storymaster

Anyone can tell a story. But very few people are masters of storytelling. What’s the difference?

You know it: story theory.

If you want to take your writing to the next level–if you want to write more than forgettable potboilers–if you want your stories to matter–then you’ll need story theory to get there.

And there’s a bonus: the better you understand story theory, the easier your writing gets. You have more control over what you’re doing. No more flailing in the dark, wondering how to fix your story. You know how to fix it. (Even better, you’ll have far fewer problems to correct in the first place, since your understanding of story will have accurately guided your decisions all the way through the outline and first draft.)

You lose nothing in creative energy. Instead, you learn to harness that energy in the most effective and powerful ways.

6. Story Theory Is Awesomesauce!

Okay, this is really a bonus reason. But it’s big! Story theory is a.maz.ing.

Seriously, it’s totally addictive. The deeper I get into story theory, the more it enhances not just my writing, but also my enjoyment of stories in general, and even my own understanding and approach to life.

Story theory can sometimes sound like homework when you’re first getting your brain around the idea. But it’s not. This is what algebra is to Will Hunting, what physics were to Albert Einstein, what gorillas are to Jane Goodall. For writers, this is the stuff of life. It will suck you in, pull you under, and never let you go. And you’ll love every second of it.

7. TL;DR: Story Theory Will Teach You Everything You Need to Know About Writing

Let me sum all this up: story theory is storytelling. It is all of writing in a nutshell. It is everything I teach on this blog. Story theory shows you how stories work and how you can apply those lessons to your own writing. In short, whether or not you’re consciously chasing after story theory yet, you’ve already been immersed in it up to your eyeballs all this time.

Story theory is a concept as big as the world itself. The more your knowledge and understanding of the theory grows, so does the theory itself grow. It’s a never-ending playground for writers–a never-ending opportunity to become a better writer every single day. You need story theory. ‘Nuff said.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How important is it for writers to study story theory? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Part of the reason I love writing is that it comes with never ending learning. And learning something we already love is like putting icing in the cake of life. 😀
    Already sucking in the resources you shared today, ordered Dramatica too.
    P.S, for some reason, this post has left me strangely elated. Well writing is spiritual too, and it shows that you have put your spirit in this post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree! I love that writing is a never-ending journey of discovery. It’s a joy that I will never fully master it. Always something new around the corner!

  2. And the congregation said…AMEN. AMEN SISTER!

    Sounds great! Love it. I’ll be back in a bit. Going to study my eyelids for a little, do some creative procrastination. 🙂

  3. Mirkwood says

    I’ve been reading the Bronte sisters and I realized how much I can take from the works of all three of them. I feel like I can learn more from their works and a couple of other classic authors better than I can from modern stories, even top notch modern stories.
    Lately I’ve been reading Villette and I’m noticing at how Charlotte really had dialogue down, not to mention she’s got to be one of, if not the, best writers of first person point of view. In your read-all-the-classics challenge, did you get to read all of the Bronte sisters’ works?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think Anne’s earliest novel is the only one I haven’t read. The Brontes have been hugely instrumental in my journey as well, not least because of the opportunity Writer’s Digest gave me in annotating Jane Eyre for their Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics series. Working on that project is what really solidified my understanding of character arcs. And Wuthering Heights (which I love better every time I read it) was huge regarding negative arcs as well.

      • It was the annotated Jane Eyre that first introduced me to the Brontes. 🙂 I’ve found it very helpful. And I’ve liked Wuthering Heights better each time I’ve read it, too—it was so different from anything I’d read before, I had to “learn” how to read it, so to speak, before I could really appreciate it.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          That’s been exactly my experience with Wuthering Heights too. I think I gave it three stars the first time I read, four stars the second, and five the third time. :p

  4. Story theory is what finally made it possible for me to finish writing a novel that made sense. It was Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering that turned on the lights for me.

    That being said, I’m a committed pantser, after trying all kinds of outlining methods and failing to find any that worked for me. But I pants with that overarching structure in mind, and usually start writing with a very general idea of the main points of the story. Those can-and do-change, but keeping the general structure in mind helps keep me on track. Maybe I really am a plantser. ?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve come to believe that we’re *all* really “plantsers.” Both planning and pantsing are inherent and vital parts of the process. We need both skills–balanced to different degrees for each of us–to write a book.

      • Hahah, someone’s like yours fall more on planning side and this lazy folk here always has hard time planning the actual story (I still fill notebooks after notebooks with world-building and character sketches) so I mostly write by the seat of pants…
        No right or wrong way!

  5. Eric Troyer says

    Great post! I love story theory. I’ve often wondered how much it is studied in anthropology. This post finally got me to do a quick Google search and I came across this article about Kurt Vonnegut’s theory of story shapes. The video is delightful!


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, yes, I’d forgotten all about that! I have it as a graphic on my computer. Good stuff.

  6. I have, only in the last year, begun to study story theory although I didn’t know it was called that. Thanks for the name and the focus. I find that the more I study, the more whatever story I am working on gets better. I’ve been amazed. Thanks for the information.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m a big proponent of “naming” things. Once we have a name for it, it’s easier to figure out where it fits and how it works.

    • Can story theory be also like the ability to identify story elements, and devices in the works of other authors and understand the deeper meaning of them?
      But also being able to implement different elements into your own work?

  7. Kate Flournoy says

    YES. I reached the point a couple months ago and my world has since exploded. I’m glad someone else finds it as fascinating as I do. 😉

  8. Rick Alvarado says

    I found your videos on YouTube a couple weeks ago, almost by accident. In a couple weeks, I already read two of your books and every single one of your posts on structure, character arc, and scene. You have changed my life young lady (I’m probably younger than you, I really don’t know). You also changed my stories (there’s just one now, but I’m sure there will be plenty of them), so thank you. You are so devoted to writing, it’s really inspiring… I’m writing in Spanish by the way. I mean, obviously I’m bilingual, but I read mostly in Spanish so I wanted to write in Spanish first.
    So please keep doing this, and thank you for inspiring us.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the info! Makes my day to hear it’s been useful. Bilingual people impress me so much (*she says as she stumbles through learning French*). Takes so much skill to be conversant in multiple languages, much less write fluently in more than one!

  9. Linda Fletcher says

    I’m still trying to find the thing that will turn that light on in my brain. I’ve taken classes, I’ve read books, I’ve tried different methods of plotting and structure, and I just can’t find that one piece of key information that will turn on my neurons and make me say, “OMG, I get it now!” AND then actually allow me to take what I’ve learned and translate it into one of my own stories. I think what I need is to clone you, fly the clone to my house, sit down with her, and go over story theory AND my story ideas step by step so I can see where I’m losing track. Please send a DNA sample to HopelessPlotter@WhenDoesThisGetEasier.com, LOL.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Heh. 😉 Keep at it. And don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Honestly, I’ve been at this for most of my life, and only with this most recent WIP have I felt that the stars are truly starting to align in a way that gives me power *over* my story. The evolution of a writer is a journey. We just have to enjoy the ride.

  10. A.P. Lambert says

    My follow up question would be, what isn’t story theory? It almost sounds like story theory includes basically everything there is to know about telling a story. But I feel like I might be wrong about that conclusion.
    Mainly, what I want to know is, when are we in danger of not learning story theory or how can we get better at it? Presently, what I’m getting from this post is: keep learning, because learning is cool. And, if so, well, I couldn’t agree more.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Technically, yes, everything about storytelling could realistically be called story theory. But, specifically, story theory is about the psychological mechanics of story (more than the actual execution). Still, at the end of the day, the only point that really matters is: learn. 🙂

  11. Somebody had to say it — good one, K.M.W. — you’re on the money, as usual. I’m going to forward this to all my writing students. ~ PJ

  12. Great post, K.M. ! Lot to think about there 🙂 I really agree with #6 you have there too! I would say that story theory is really about mastering the “craft” of writing. Learning it and then being swept along with the excitement of it all!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Swept along” is a good word. I feel that way sometimes: like I’m in a white-water raft and all this beauty and excitement is just rushing past me on every side. It’s a good way to live life. 🙂

  13. I learned some basics of story theory from reading, but also from watching TV and movies. One thing you learn from watching TV and movies is the idea of moving the story forward. In movies, you have 2 hours, usually. For TV, you have either 30 minutes or 1 hour. You have to tell the complete story in that time. (I know they have 2-part episodes on TV, and sequels in movies, but you still have a limited time to tell the complete story.) The focus on that time has to be on the story. Anything else gets cut. In books, you do have some more leeway, but if exposition gets too long, it gets boring for the reader. Move the story forward.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The fun thing about story theory is that it’s everywhere–in all kinds of storytelling media and even in our real lives. Stuff to learn is all around us. We just have to keep our eyes open.

      • I love that learning spirit! It *is* the way of the Jedi.

        Great post. Loved every bit from head to toe. It helps to have a good level of understanding and organization before writing. Then we actually have to write something. Yikes. Learning how to implement what see in story theory will be the real test. But what a challenge! Whoop whoop! It should be fun though. We’re learning, our characters are learning, our readers will be learning. Everybody’s learning! Quite thrilling eh?

        I second the enjoyment of theorizing story. Its boundaries seem unfathomably boundless. Its height ascends the moment we encroach. The width broadens at each new discovery. Its depth remains eternally unplumbed.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          It is addictive. I love it almost as much as the storytelling itself, probably because it’s easier. 😉

  14. Curtis L. Manges says

    The story theory resource that’s helped me the most recently was Lisa Cron’s book, “Wired for Story.” Good stories have helped people survive, in a pretty literal sense (no charge for the pun). So, our brains are wired for stories that fulfill that service.

    There are similar books by other writers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t read that one, but I’ve heard lots of good things about it. I have her upcoming book Story Genius on my wishlist.

      • I’m currently reading Story Genius (ARC copy via NetGalley).

        It’s offering a chandelier full of lightbulb moments about the relationship between plot, structure, and story. It’s also got (gasp) exercises: she wants her readers to actually apply her principles to their current manuscripts. Eek.


  15. Charli Kap says

    Loved this post! It’s definitely inspired me to keep reading and researching. I was wondering, do you have a list of top three or five story theory books that heavily influenced your perspective on story structure and writing?

  16. I think learning story theory, or theories, is absolutely vital to one’s learning and understanding. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across “that guy” on “that web forum” where scripts are analyzed who proudly states he’s “completed” 17 scripts…and yet has done nothing with any of them. Chances are, he’s just repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again.

    Most people probably look at Dramatica and figure it’s too much. The learning curve is indeed steep, but the perspective it gives one on story can open so many doors. I’ve seen the Hero’s Journey twisted to no end in stories where the main character ISN’T the protagonist and, as a writer, have been frustrated when receiving coverage where the concept is not only alien to the reader, they find fault with it because it doesn’t fit into what they do know and believe to be true.

    Comments like “there’s a perspective issue here,” and “who exactly is this story about? It seems like XX should be the hero” are common and make me want to bang my head against a padded wall. I recently read a review from one online source regarding the film Sicario, the reviewer finding fault that the story ditched the protagonist in the climax and how confusing it was to suddenly be following another character. Maybe that’s because she was never the active protagonist and the story’s main character whom the audience is supposed to see the story from. That there is a certain degree of manipulation involved requires the viewer to re-analyze almost everything in order to understand what is a) really happening and more importantly, b) what the author is actually trying to convey to the audience.

    Having a knowledge of all these various different theories expands one’s toolbox and arm the writer with knowledge and wisdom if they actively apply and learn from it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Excellent thoughts here. I’m actually going to talk about the crucial importance of following the protagonist through *every single* major structural moment in a near-future post. It’s such a vital thing to understand, and yet surprisingly easy to miss.

      • Thanks – I did lose my train of thought while typing that as I meant to say stories don’t belong to one character; their emotional impact is born from relationships. That’s the “X” factor with Dramatica: the heart of the story is found in the relationship between the main character and the influence character and how all three have their own unique perspectives (throughlines.) Failing to see how Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario ISN’T the protagonist will ultimately taint every other aspect of someone’s understanding the film.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, totally agree. The relationship dynamic, whatever its manifestation, is the heart of all conflict and theme.

  17. Sean Ryan says

    Great stuff! I have mostly been listening to your podcasts, which didn’t have the embedded links, and my first response was to wonder where all this story theory material was that I should have been exposed to. I didn’t know if you were speaking of some reference a little more formal than your podcast, so I was expecting more of a “please check out X” summary at the end. That part comes across better in the blog.

    Also, I wanted to thank you. I’ve been working on my first fantasy novel over the past three years, and I’ve finally managed to perform my last pre-beta edit of the piece. Heaven knows anyone will pick it up after that, but your podcasts have been an inspiration to keep writing! Thank you for sharing so much of your energy, and your analysis, with your readers and listeners!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the podcast! Congrats on finishing your book! And thanks for your observation about the context of the related links (obviously) not coming through in the podcast. That’s something I honestly hadn’t considered and will try to keep in mind in the future.

      • Sean Ryan says

        Thanks! What’s truly amazing to me is that when I went back to read the 138k word monstrocity, I actually liked it. I’d never written any fiction longer than a couple pages, and the initial outline and first few chapters were awful. I feel like I did enough planning and rework for several books, and scrapped nearly the entire plot three times, but the story would have died a painful death without it. I’ve become a huge believer in outlining.

  18. Sandy Stuckless says

    I’m kicking myself for not paying closer attention to this earlier. Now, as I use your story structure and scene structure series to go through my first novel, I’m finding it a bit overwhelming. I’m questioning everything I’ve written.
    On the other hand, it’s quite enlightening to actually analyze a story and have one those ‘aha, I got that right!’ moments.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Never too late! And don’t kick yourself for it. Just take it one step at a time and enjoy the journey.

  19. I used to completely cringe when I saw articles about story theory or story structure. My strengths have always been thinking outside the box and creativity. But, universal truths still exist, even for stories. Now I find myself pinpointing where movies went wrong, even before they get the negative reviews, and more importantly, being able to applaud books and movies that get it right and truly resonate!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honestly: so did I (even though my strength is decidedly organizing *within* the box). I think this is the natural reaction to things we don’t yet fully comprehend. We’re getting along just fine where we are, thank you very much. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! But sometimes, with things like this, we don’t realize how much we’re missing until we have that first “aha!” moment where the light bulb goes off.

  20. Felicity S. says

    I know the midpoint in my writing was that day I googled Character Arcs and bumped into your blog. Thanks for everything you do, K.M.!

  21. Kyle Connor says

    I write fiction but lately i sat back and was wondering about the thinks that have happened over the past and i must say as cliched it may sound, but reality is stranger than fiction.

    I liked your thoughts on “story theory” and can relate to it. Nice read.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Truth. Fiction is really just our attempt to impose order on reality so we can understand it.

  22. I have been looking forward to reading this all week, but have been absolutely swamped until just now! Well, actually I still am, but I read it anyway. It was very much worth the wait, and extremely awesome. This is maybe the topic I am most passionate about, after theology, and I see the two as being very connected — understanding how the Story connects to all the other stories.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally know what you mean. Story theory isn’t just about writing. It’s about fundamental truths about how the world works and us in it. Honestly, it’s been a very spiritual experience for me.

  23. I think any Plotter that learns story theory well enough can become a Pantser essentially. The key seems to be understanding the why of structure so that not having the specific scenes plotted out isn’t an obstacle anymore, because you can trust yourself to know what kind of element in the story needs to come next and when.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In theory, I agree with this. However, I honestly don’t see there ever being a day when I stop outlining. For me, it’s not just knowing how *story* works, but figuring out how *a* story works, blow by blow, cause and effect, scene by scene.

  24. Katerina says

    This made me smile when I read it. 🙂 By the way, what were your sources that taught you story theory when you first started writing seriously? A young Jedi has to start somewhere!

  25. You sold me early in the post as to why I need to understand story theory. But, I became impatient as I continued to listen to the podcast and read the post.

    I was thinking, “C’mon already K.M.W., tell me how to do this story theory stuff!” I was getting near the end of the podcast, and I could see there wasn’t much of the post left to read. I began to fear that you weren’t going to deliver the story theory goods. That, sorta like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape, I wasn’t going to get my cycle over the story theory fence.

    It was like:

    Curses! K.M.W. is going to leave me hanging with story theory. Maybe she has no idea of what story theory is, but she wanted to write and talk about it anyways. No use Googling it, she already has and told me everything she found. Hmm, this is unlike Weiland… she always answers her post’s questions, she doesn’t leave stones unturned. Here I am though, stuck with my cycle in the story theory fence and the goons are coming for me. Aw, nuts.

    Then, THEN, I say, K.M.W., almost at the very end you finally tell me what story theory is. You told me, “It is everything I teach on this blog.”

    You’ve been helping me to learn about story theory all along as I’ve been listening to your podcasts and reading your posts. I have been learning about story theory because you’ve been explaining it to me.

    So, there I was getting all panicky that you were going to leave me hanging in the story theory fence, with my cycle all beat up and the goons closing in fast on me. Oh, me of little faith!

    It turns out, that thanks to you, I already know something about story theory. If I keep on keeping on reading and listening to what you have to say about writing, then I will grasp what story theory is all about more and more.

    You are adding the extra speed needed to get the cycle over the story theory fence. Good bye, goons!

    Once again, a top-notch post.

    Very good, K.M. Weiland. Very good. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. Sorry for the early frustration. 😉 Story theory is particularly story structure, character arcs, and theme.

      • Hello ms k m Weiland first of all I have to say big fan I think your books on writing makes writing fiction easier and i thank you not just for those book but for introducing me to Dramatica theory through the article that you wrote on story theory because it open an infinite possibilities in the realm of fiction but somehow makes it more restricted and under my control and here lies the problem this theory carries an even portion of genius and madness to those you comprehend it but the complexity of understanding and comprehending it is beyond me but still that what makes it a challenge I believe that if I could somehow understand this I am able to do create gripping believable stories and be more of a storyteller like you in the future and I don’t want to expatiate even further my question is this : is there a way or an approach to make this theory less intricate ? And if there wasn’t another other than just delve into could you be so kind and refer me to a much similar but at the time much simple guide in your professional opinion

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Others have broken down Dramatica so that it’s a little more wieldy. If you google it, I’m sure you’ll find some of them. Although I appreciate Dramatica and have adopted some of their ideas, I’m not familiar enough with it to break it down in depth.

    • I felt the same way – lots of lead up and then: “it’s everything I’m teaching you already.” Kind of a whomp, whomp for me. :/

  26. ‘Almost all the problems pantsers struggle with come down to a lack of organization’ – too true! Thanks for mentioning Now Novel, Katie.

  27. I recently began following your blog and am obsessed with your incredible sharing of your process. I got tingles reading this particular post. For most of my life, I had listened to people telling stories and trying to understand why some people can tell a good one and others can’t and I always told myself it was about the pacing. Today I realized that behind the pacing is story theory.

    My BA in English was a good old traditional one, with the old professor with his scowl and growl lectures pounding into our heads the stuff we needed to know about literature. Today I realized he was teaching us story theory. Thank you so much for this insight.

  28. Just reading this made my heart skip a beat. I’m hooked!

  29. Ryan Ouellette says

    Wow, I have been immersed in story theory up to my eyeballs all this time. Now I have an excuse to watch more movies. 😀

  30. Brenda Williams says

    You made a believer out of me. I understood every thing you said. I got a lot of exploring to do. Thanks a lot.

  31. James Butler says

    I’m not sure about this ‘Midpoint in storytelling life-cycle’ business. I had a story idea, decided to write a book… and found your articles before I even wrote 1 line of the actual book.
    I’m interested in doing it right from the git-go because I want my story to be told the best way possible. I wanna reach the most readers and have them get the most out of my story. So I learn first.

    Maybe I’m just the weirdo that likes to learn.

    This was a fun read though, thanks for everything.

  32. “This is what algebra is to Will Hunting, what physics were to Albert Einstein, what gorillas are to Jane Goodall.”
    Hmm . . .
    Can’t resist a few editorial remarks here…
    Keep Einstein.
    Yet, you mix fictional with non-fictional characters. I think a no-no. So strike out Will. Famous mathematicians abound. I would have selected any of these three:
    Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – along with Newton, foundational creator of calculus
    Carl Friedrich Gauss – non-Euclidian geometries among many discoveries
    John von Neumann – Foundational creator of game theory
    Okay, so these names aren’t household, but they can’t all be Einsteins.
    Goodall is good, but she studied/lived with chimpanzees. Perhaps you meant Dian Fossey, who was the real-life subject played by Sigourney Weaver in the 1988 film, Gorillas in the Mist.
    You know I say these things because I care. Rascally yours . . .

  33. Alan Fisk says

    I find story theory most useful when I have the feeling that a story isn’t working. Looking over the various theoretical models, I always find what the problem is and how to fix it – or that it’s unfixable, and that this story should be abandoned. I’ve even used it to analyse why I should never try to get a couple of my out-of-print novels republished.


  1. […] sometimes you need a framework. This post about story theory might be useful at those […]

  2. […] month, I have a handful of writing-related articles for you guys! The first one is “7 Reasons You Need Story Theory” from Helping Writers Become Authors. For anyone who’s even remotely interested in […]

  3. […] (Side note: For a really good post on story theory & structure, read this) […]

  4. […] 7 Reasons You Need Story Theory “Ultimately, almost all the problems pantsers struggle with come down to a lack of organization and therefore a lack of understanding about the nature of story in general and their own stories in particular,” writes K.M. Weiland. […]

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