Good day all!
Today I'm going to talk about two common ways that writers who are 'planners' set up the overall structure of their stories. Hope it helps!
Disclaimer: Yep, there are other ways to structure your story, but these two seem to be the ones most talked about in the circles where I surf. Both also follow the assumed rising-action (stakes)-until-catharsis-then-ending method as well.
#1: The Three Act Play: This is the most common 'old fashioned' form of structure. It is SO familiar and ingrained into most readers minds that it provides a 'safe' and 'comfortable' read when done correctly and a sensation of 'messiness' when done incorrectly. When you are planning this kind of structure, the Heart of your story arc is in Act II. Your character introductions, themes, and setting are set up in Act I. Catharsis is hit at the beginning of Act III, then you tie it up and write The End.
Due to our cross-media culture and concepts of 'properties' / 'franchises', most of today's three-act stories are beginning to blend into script writing rules (allowing for easier book-to-movie deals). With that in mind, the three-act structure will (more or less) come together as follows:
1. The first sentence that opens the tale.
2. Introduce the Protagonist, hint at the Problem, tease the elements of the Setting / Major Themes
1. The Protagonist is launched into the Heart of the Problem (some kind of disaster strikes)
2. Pinch #1: Remind the reader of the Problem, show the Protagonist failing / messing up when the Problem re-appears.
3. Midpoint: The story flip-flops or changes in some way, with the Protagonist thinking they solved the Problem, but has only made things WORSE.
4. Pinch #2: Deal with minor plot points, start hinting around at how to bring things together, even if the Protagonist cannot see them yet.
5. Dark Night Of The Soul: All seems to be lost for the Protagonist until,,,
1. The Protagonist deals with the Problem when everything comes together!
2. The final battle / Catharsis
3. Tying up the minor points (watch out for info dumps!)
4. The final sentence that closes the tale.
That's about it for this type of planning! Try to keep the lions share of the story in Act II (keep it around 2/3rd to 3/4 of the total pages).
#2: 32 Scenes: This is a less-structured way of planning, allowing for more twists and turns and keeping the reader in a state of suspense and tension. Take care not to lose minor plot arcs and also try to keep from traveling too far off the plot (this will create distrust for the reader).
Here's how it works: For dramas and biographies, plan on creating 30-32 scenes (or chapters). For action / thrillers, bump the number of scenes / chapters to 38-40; this keeps the scenes shorter and gives the books a faster pacing.
Your first scene or Preface should introduce the Problem and/or the Protagonist. However that scene plays out will set the TONE for the ENTIRE BOOK. This creates trust between the story and the reader (be careful how you manipulate it). Early scenes should have a lot of unanswered questions and teasing of things to come.
By the 4-6th scene, you should fall into a kind of "Because of X, then Y happens..." This rhythm should end each scene with a question / problem that is dealt with in the next 1-3 scenes.
Catharsis should happen around 4-6 scenes from the end.
The last scene should tie up everything and reflect the issue presented in the first scene, to give the reader a sense of completion.
I tend to write the 32 Scenes down on a sheet of lined paper, with each line being the scene descriptor. When I am doing the novel-in-a-month thing, I try to work on expanding each (single) scene / line into 1700 - 2000 words. At the end of of the month, I've got my novel 'done'.
Have fun and write on!