The Story Formula

Brain child of American novelist and university professor, Alice Adams, the ABDCE story structure is taught in universities across the world. Whether you are writing your first narrative or your fiftieth, this formula will lay the foundation for a story that pulls your readers in and keeps them turning pages. Here’s a brief description of each…keep reading, it involves dragons!


Many stories open with a character thinking about something or with setting. Instead, grab your reader’s attention with a pop of action, something your characters are doing.


Now that you’ve created momentum, take a moment and fill in the background. Why do we care about these characters? Give your reader the vital information they need to understand why the characters are doing this action.


This is where your characters grow. Here is where we learn what they care most about and what they’re willing to do, or not do, to attain their goals. What’s standing in their way? Do they succeed or fail at the obstacles thrown in their path?


All the threads of rising action come together in a crescendo. A narrative twist happens and your main characters are significantly impacted. They are transformed in some real way.


Your characters come out on the other side as different people. What’s the new status quo? What does it say about the journey?

Each of these sections can be of any length, though endings are usually short. Now that we see how the structure works, let’s try it out.

(A) Suppose you have a pet dragon, Ryoto, with leathery wings that breathes bright purple fire. One day Ryoto is out flying and accidentally roasts your neighbors barn. Your neighbor is very angry about this and tells you you must get rid of your dragon. This is your action. Remember, the action that kicks off of your story is usually dramatic.

(B) Now you have Ryoto because your father, who was a soldier that died in a war, gave him to you to take care of. Ryoto was his dragon and you promised him when he left for war that you would take care of Ryoto. This is your background. It’s the context that offers vivid and crucial information that helps us determine our main character’s action throughout the story.

(D) Now let’s develop our story with Ryoto. Ryoto is high maintenance. He has a chronic sneezing condition that causes him to unintentionally light things on fire. Meaning you are constantly repairing the buildings he burns down and consoling angry neighbors.

You realize that your neighbor has a point about him being high maintenance, perhaps even dangerous, but Ryoto has been with you for years and has helped you through many crises. And because of the promise you made to your dead father, the war veteran, getting rid of Ryoto isn’t an option.

(C) Now it’s time for the climax. You invite your neighbor to your house and offer to cook a conciliatory dinner. While you’re in the kitchen, Ryoto sneezes and sets your neighbors wife’s hair alight. You now have to make a decision. Lose your good standing with your neighbor or get rid of Ryoto.

(E) The ending, what happens to your characters after the climax. You decide to honor your commitment to your father and keep Ryoto. You make a sneeze guard that Ryoto wears so his sneezes no longer inflame the neighbors. You and Ryoto live happily ever after.

By | 2018-06-07T19:08:10+00:00 June 30th, 2015|0 Comments