What's the Structure of Your Narrative? Blueprint for a Book Step 6

What's the Structure of Your Narrative? Blueprint for a Book Step 6

Finding your structure Episode 327

The structure of a book is only inevitable in hindsight.

Non-writers don’t usually notice structure unless it leaps out at them—reverse chronology, say, or an epistolary narrative. But structural choices loom huge for non-fiction writers and are no less important for memoir and fiction (although straight chronological is the white-shirt-and-blue-jeans of structure—relatable, easy to execute and nearly always appropriate). Will there be alternating timelines or POVs? A prologue? Who’s telling this story, and why, and how? When does it start and when does it end?

If you’ve done the exercises up until now, you know why you’re writing and who you’re writing for. You’ve thought about the market–where your readers are and what they want. You’ve drafted some back of the book copy in the hopes of reaching those readers–and to remind yourself of the promise you’re making to them. And you’ve thought about the change that propels readers through a book, which is a sneaky way into thinking about theme. This is where we get ready to start the actual writing of your story.

This is the sixth episode in the 10-part Blueprint for a Book Series. Start with Step 1, do the work (we’ll give you an assignment every week), and in 10 weeks, you’ll have a solid foundation for a first draft or revision of your project that will help you push through to “the end”. Find details on the challenge HERE.


Answer the following questions:

For fiction and narrative memoir:

  • Where is the narrator standing in time?

  • What period of time does the book cover?

  • Where does the book start and end?

  • Does the reader know things the protagonist does not, and if so, how? (This is a good chance to check to make sure that your POV serves your story.)

For nonfiction and memoir/self-help:

  • Choose a structural prototype from this worksheet. Download HERE

  • Answer the questions for that prototype.

(Note: We suggest you download a Blueprint answer workbook to keep track of your 10 assignments. That will make it easier to revise, review and come back to your work. Click to grab yours for fiction or nonfiction. If you are writing narrative memoir (a story), use the fiction workbook and assignments. If you are writing self-help/memoir, use the nonfiction workbook and assignments. Prefer paper? Tape the assignment into your journal and make a nice big heading so you know: This is Step 6. This is the page (or pages) on structure.)


Wild, Cheryl Strayed

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado

The Part that Burns, Jeannine Ouellette

The Art of the Book Proposal, Eric Maisel

Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

Cooked, Michael Pollan

Tribe of Mentors, Timothy Ferriss

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb

Moms Don’t Have Time To , Zibby Owens

A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott

Quiet, Susan Cain

The People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry

Blueprint for a Book (Fiction and Memoir)

Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book


Suzette Mullen is an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach who helps nonfiction writers write books that bring light and hope to the world. Suzette has a particular interest in building community for LGBTQ+ memoir writers. You can find out more about Suzette, her writing, and her book coaching services at yourstoryfinder.com.

For more from KJ, subscribe to her newsletter: Read. Eat. Listen. Or grab one of her novels, In Her Boots and The Chicken Sisters, wherever books are sold. Wondering about KJ as a book coach? Her current offerings are HERE

For more from Jennie, subscribe to her weekly newsletter. Or grab one of her Blueprint books, wherever books are sold. You can learn about getting matched with an Author Accelerator book coach or becoming a book coach at authoraccelerator.com

This summer is all about starting a project, but if you already have a novel or memoir manuscript and you’re ready to go ALL IN, you’re going to want to do Author Accelerator’s Manuscript Incubator. Registration is open for the intensive, 7-month coaching opportunity that offers one-on-one support and guidance for novelists and memoirists planning to have a submission-ready project by early 2023—and includes the opportunity to have that project reviewed by a group of agents and editors when it’s ready. For more information, head to authoraccelerator.com/manuscript-incubator.

Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen.