Nontraditional Patterns

A while ago I was watching a webinar when an agent asked writers, especially picture book writers, to learn about something other than the three act structure. The problem with this particular pattern is that it is used so frequently that it has become somewhat predictable. Fortunately there are a number of other patterns you can use.

Four or Five Act

Slightly different from the familiar three act structure are the four and five act structures. At first, it might seem like these patterns simply add more beats to the story but remember that when your character goes into a new act, they face a story beat that is irreversible. There is absolutely no way that your character can move backwards. They have either changed too much emotionally or mentally or something else has changed so that home is no longer an option.

Freytag’s Pyramid

In this older pattern, the climax to the story comes in the middle of the story. The climax may not be a big epic battle but it is the point where the conflict peaks and we know what is going to happen, more or less, to the main character. When a Shakespearean character chooses a bad path, it becomes obvious at the climax and then for the rest of the play we watch the character spiral downward.

In the first half of the play we watch the character struggle to reach a goal. The climax is where the character gets what he wants. Afterwards, the falling action is when the character meets his fate. This pattern is frequently used in tragedies.

Cell Structure

I just wrote an interactive piece with a cell structure pattern. That sounds a bit high brow, doesn’t it? What I wrote was a choose your own piece where each numbered section is a separate vignette.

Each piece generally reflects a set theme.

You can read a lot more about unconventional story patterns, including the spiral, the fractal, and the meander in Jane Alison’s Meander Spiral Explode. I’m definitely going to have to reread this book several times while also picking through the examples she uses. After focusing so much on three act structure, it can be difficult to even see the others, let alone to understand how they function.