Story Structure Architect - Was it Good For You?

By Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.
Publisher: Writers Digest Books

You may have notice that most of the writing books I’ve reviewed so far focus on story structure. That’s because that’s where I am on the learning curve. That’s why I picked up this book. I mean, Story Structure Architect? Come on. That’s got to have something useful for the quest, doesn’t it? One would think so, wouldn’t one?

But right from the beginning, I had doubts about this book. I’d just come off a reread of the Save the Cat! and one of Syd Field's books so I was used to their chatty sytles. This read like a text book or maybe a master's thesis. So before I was done with the first chapter, I got curious enough to check Amazon.  The only books listed by this author are 45 Master Characters, Book in a Month, and this one. So right away I'm thinking, "This author is all about lists."

I decided that this doesn’t mean she doesn’t have something valuable to bring to the table, but it does mean that if she says something that conflicts with someone like Blake Snyder or Sol Stein, I’m going to discard her opinion because she’s never really been in the trenches.

It never became an issue because this isn’t really about how to write a story.

I decided I'd review it anyway because what these reviews are about is letting you know which resources have real value and which . . . not so much.  So . . .

There are four sections to this book.

1. Drafting a Plan
Subsections here deal with the 5 Dramatic Throughlines (why she had to make up her own terminology is beyond me,) the 6 basic conflicts, and the 21 genres. This is really just an brief overview because this whole section is only 24 pages.

2. Building the Structure
The subsections here start with defining 11 Master Structures, the first of which she calls The Roller Coaster Ride which is 5 pages devoted to simplistic story structure. Then she moves onto The Replay which she defines as having two or three version of the same events in one story (5 more pages.) Then we move on to the Fate structure which is where the Climax takes place at the beginning of the story as well as the ending of the story (another 5 pages.)  And so on through the remaining eight structures.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

But lest you think I’m being too judgmental , let’s examine one of these. Romance, the genre I write, gets 7 whole pages.

The author maintains that if you analyze the fairy tales—Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleeping Beauty, you will understand the structure of every type of romance written.
The Cinderella Structure is all about the heroine falling in love with the hero first and being at his mercy (the author’s word choice, not mine.) Her main concern in life (regardless of the level of her independence) is whether he will love her back (as with Hamlet and Ophelia).

The Beauty and the Beast Structure has the hero falling in love with the heroine first and being at her mercy even though he’s an “extremely powerful man in every area of his life except where she is concerned” (as in The Phantom of the Opera).

In the Sleeping Beauty Structure, both fall in love together and then save each other (ala Romeo and Juliet… sort of)

With each structure there is a three act outline.

There is some additional information about the features of the romance genre, but I’ll leave it at that because if I comment further, I’m going to go all snarky.

3. Introducing the Dramatic Situations
The situations are all paired up, being presented as mirroring aspects and while most have some validity, some are also more than a little outdated if taken literally, such as Situations 7 & 8 Vengeance Taken for Kindred Upon Kindred and Appearance of a New Kinsman. Richard III is a classic example she uses. The Golden Child would be her modern version but I think she’s stretching.

I won’t say this book has no value, because someone might use it to stimulate ideas, but that’s about all the contribution I can see it making to a working writer, because nothing is covered in any depth. It’s all shallow, surface information more suited to an academic paper.

I'll grant you that the Save the Cat! books are a hard act to follow but this book just makes them look that much more impressive. If you're looking for something to help you get a handle on story structure go with those. If you want to write a paper for a literature class, Story Structure Architect may be what you need. 

If you'd like to see reviews of other writing sources, go here.


  1. Thoughtful and thorough review!! Thanks for sharing it. I'm always looking for different books that can help with my writing, but it's good to get a real world view of them before spending the money.