Writer’s Log: 1782 Cyclical story structure

Last night I watched Brandon Mull’s #9 video on youtube (he subbed for Sanderson). Mull is eccentric and idiosyncratic (to say the least). But his thoughts (once they come out) were spot on. From them I designed my own writing organization philosophy. (To be honest, Sanderson also poses similar story topologies.)

It goes like this:


Characters and subjects
experience events and perform actions, which result in consequences which then pose implications
back on the characters and subjects.

This cycle exists at the story level, the chapter level, the scene level and even the paragraph or sentence level.

An old man battles nature and himself, but in the end loses. He catches the biggest marlin of his life. In doing so he sails far from his home port. But the sharks attack and devour the marlin leaving him with nothing to show for his magnificent struggle.


A story is a set of these cycles both concentrically, and independently organized. Like this:

I’ve never considered such a structure, however, as Mr. Mull continued, what he alluded to was that these self contained scenes (the little cycles within the bigger chapter cycles within the story cycle itself) can be isolated and written as standalone pieces. Much like the way Anthony Doerr explains how he wrote All the Light We Cannot See.

These scenes can then be stitched together with narrative which would include both time and space references: [detailed scene #1] — “Two weeks later the train pulled into San Francisco.” — [detailed scene #2].

I recommend watching at least Mull’s singular video. He’s hard to watch. He makes reference to his Mormon ideologies – cough. But in the end I found his advice useful.

13 thoughts on “Writer’s Log: 1782 Cyclical story structure

  1. Hello. I gave you this.
    Scenes do stand alone. My last three or four short stories are lightly edited chapters. You need to cycle through characters at will. But no matter how hard you look for the silver bullet formula, you need to tell a story. Jesus. This guzinda that. There are only so many stories. The trick is in the lighting, dialogue and wardrobe. Two and two is only four if you write it that way. Conflict and story are in the details, not the outline. Signposts can be waaaaay out front but have you noticed the guy in the lane next to you, who’s been told it will end for the last two miles freaks and cuts you off thirty feet from the big flashing arrow? Why is that? Write defensively, so you’re not surprised. Stop looking for writerly alchemy and write. That’s where the magic is. Not in some formulaic YouTube hacks retelling of the basic plot device architecture

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You could also say “just sail…” but if you don’t know where you’re going , and you have no direction, you’ll never get there. That’s why I fill in my “back stories” so often. Gives me time to think while I get rave reviews from the ESL ladies and I can pretend I know what I’m doing. Getting advice from “YouTube hacks” who have actually published can’t be a bad thing. But yeah, one can take advice ad infinitum but someday ya gotta sit down and write something and sail away.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Your story will take you where it needs to go. I understand lost and gone better than most, having started my creative life as a synthesizer space fart through a space echo guy. But every trip is a story. It starts someplace, shit happens, and it ends someplace. Shit happening is the important part. Whether it’s a formulaic story arc or stream of consciousness. I quit reading your stuff because it’s neither. It’s the same old circle jerk and your drafting never improves. I don’t think you want to get better but if YouTube telling you something you could read and learn and actually put to use, by all means…sail bro.
        Or better yet, let’s all write the same way. Instead of sailing, let’s watch youtube in our self driving cars that will determine our route, keep us in the lane when we drift and parallel park for us while the pre portioned meals are handed off. Fuck honing a craft, right, cause that shit’s work.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Boy, I’m sure glad I’m not an enemy. (Or maybe I am now…)
          Getting better? Nope. Not right now. In fact your attack sounds so much like the abusive, belligerent prick I’m working for, a guy I don’t just wish dead, I wish quadrapedically crippled — so he can spend the next 20 years drooling into his pudding cup, that I wonder if you didn’t look him up for pointers.
          So, while my anxiety hovers around 1000%, no, no I’m not writing or trying to write due to the fact that every time I do, I drift back to the corrosive, hateful shit this douche-bag has leveled at me. This is the second time I’ve had to explain this. GEEZUS. I’m just trying to find my way – formulaic and pablum-like as it is.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You’re welcome to find your way. I was nailing GF. My point in all of this is no to be an asshole but to remind everybody to get out the elbow grease. There is no other way. You can read and understand and try to get better and it’s like wax on, wax off. The way you get better at a thing is to do the fucking thing. I don’t care if it’s Sheetrock texture or writing or cooking blackened redfish. Sooner or later you get out the tools and throw down because no one else can do it for you. Or tell you how beyond a point. Elbow grease. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. If you don’t see that it needs it, you are not alone. If you don’t know how to fix it it’s YOUR work, beat on it until it’s right. There is no equation for YOUR work. Those YouTube cats are selling you a preformed mold to pour your story into. Your art/craft develops before your eyes only when you sweat it. You wanna get better? Make your shit make YOU reasonably happy with it. In the time you spend looking for an equation or cover art, find a real editor or art director, pay them, let them rip your flesh a couple of times with unfiltered commentary and then put on your big boy panties and write like you mean it. If that’s offensive, sorry. And the bash was on GF. You’re trying to find a foothold like the rest of us.


        2. BTW, I appreciate all feedback, the more brutally honest the better. Of course, the feedback from those who speak English as a second language is more fun! LOL! Thanks for reading and comment as long as you did!

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I thought I get a pretty good rise from you on this.
      To me this is just story exploration and cogent plot discovery. It’s not writing. It’s trying to make sure I’m not just writing into a black hole (which I’ve done — purely focused on the writing itself.)
      Secondly, these are just spices added to my understanding of the writer’s stew. They don’t control or command. They only add the barest of understanding while I write. Nuance of the arc. They’re just hints not crutches.


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