This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
I don't care if your structure is based on a spiderweb or a patchwork quilt, the hero's quest or the colours of the rainbow, it just has to have one.
The most commonly used structure, certainly in genre fiction and screenplays, is the three act structure. This classic framework was described by Aristotle and is still popular today for a reason. It follows our instinctive understanding of stories: beginning, middle and end.
The first act (the beginning) includes the event that kicks everything off (often called the inciting incident), plus an introduction to the characters and the world of the story.
I find it helpful to think of the very beginning of the book in terms of a question e.g. will the heroine find love/save the community centre/triumph over the demonic forces of evil? At the end of the act, there is an event (a turning point) in which your protagonist makes a decision that launches her into act two.
During the second act (the middle), you have the conflict that you set up in act one getting worse. Your protagonist chases her goal but is continually thwarted. Her goal might change, things will certainly get more complicated, and there may be a reversal of fortune in the middle of the act (the mid-point of the novel).
At the end of the act, there is another turning point. As the conflict has been escalating throughout the act (making everything much worse for the heroine and raising the stakes), this turning point will be the 'dark moment'. This is the point in the story when it seems as if all is lost, that there is no possible hope of success, which leads into…
Act three (the end). The big confrontation or battle followed by the resolution. This is where you tie up all of your sub-plots and answer the question that you asked at the very beginning of the story.
I think it's nice to have a couple of 'breathing out' scenes at the end so that it doesn't finish too abruptly, and to give the reader a chance to enjoy the relief (if your heroine achieved her goal) or horror (if she didn't) of your ending.