It’s a known fact that all stories contain four elements that can determine structure; milieu, idea, character and event. The truth is that each is present in every story, and generally one dominates the others.
So which one dominates? That’s easy – it’s the one the author cares about most. The element of the story that matters most to you is the element that determines your story’s structure . . . and determines the type of story you really want to write.
STRUCTURE 1: THE MILIEU STORY - The milieu is the world—the earth, the society, the weather, the family, all the factors that come up as you develop your domain. Strange as it may seem, every story has a milieu. This structure is most common in science fiction and fantasy, but it also occurs in other types of novels. Take for instance, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; it begins when Dorothy is swept away to another land and doesn’t end when Dorothy discovers the wizard is a fake, it ends when Dorothy leaves Oz and goes home to Kansas.
If the most important aspect of your story is your character thriving on exploring and discovering the world you’ve created, chances are structure is your best choice.
When writing a milieu story, your beginning point is obvious; when the character arrives. The ending is just as plain; when he/she ends the question of going home.
STRUCTURE 2: THE IDEA STORY - Idea stories are about the process of pursuing and learning new information through the viewpoint of characters who are driven to make the discoveries. The structure is very simple; The idea story begins by raising a question; it ends when the question is answered.
Most mysteries follow this structure. The story begins when a crime takes place. The question is, “who did it and why?” The story ends when the writer reveals the identity and motive of the crime.
STRUCTURE 3: THE CHARACTER STORY - Character stories focus on the transformation of a character’s role in the societies that matter most to him/her. The structure of a character story is simple and begins the moment the main character becomes so unhappy, anxious or irritated in her present situation that she initiates a change of course. It ends when the character either steps into a new role (happily or not) or gives up the effort and remains in the old role (happily or not).
STRUCTURE 4: THE EVENT STORY - In the event story, something is wrong in the structure of the universe; the world is out of order. A previous order has been disrupted and the world is not stable and is in a dangerous state.
The event story ends at the point when order is established or, more rarely, when the order is restored or, rarest of all, when the world falls into chaos as the forces of order is destroyed. The story begins not at the point when the world becomes chaotic, but rather at the point when the character, whose actions are vital in creating the new order, becomes entangled in the struggle.
Almost all fantasy and most science fiction writers use the event story structure. The viewpoint character, not the narrator, is the guide into the world situation. By the time we understand the world, we already care about the people involved in saving it. The new series Revolution is a great example of this.
Writers of event stories showing the “world situation” should NOT write prologues. Begin small, and gradually expand the reader’s vision to include the whole world. If you don’t let the reader know and care about the hero first, they won’t care or stick around to see how the world is saved. There’s plenty of time share the big picture.