Murphy’s Twenty-four Chapter Structure

Murphy's Twenty-four chapter structureFour books in progress and the main crutch is Derek Murphy’s twenty-four chapter structure holding them all together. Without structure, novels are just so many words. Structure is vital. But is has to be the right structure.

All in the Journey

TV and movies have conditioned us to expect all the right notes in necessarily the right order to reach a satisfying experience. When the structure breaks, the ratings tank. If we recall Campbell’s hero’s journey, it goes back further to Gilgamesh, Homer, Greek theatre and even texts such as the Mahabarat. All the literary greats knew it or found it in their work.

You will find breakdowns of the ideal story structure using any number of steps, stages, plot points and chapters. Murphy’s version maps conveniently onto a full-length novel format. Even if the actual number of chapters varies, it hits all the right notes.

It maps directly onto every story I’ve looked at from Pride and Prejudice to the Ikea flat-pack that is the original Star Wars.

There and Back Again

The short version looks like this:

Act I

  1. Really Bad Day: Ordinary world, empathy, conflict. Show flaw and lack. Want, Problem, Need.
  2. Something Peculiar: Something unique or strange happens, but they dismiss it.
  3. Grasping at Straws: Trying to regain control of ordinary world but setbacks mount.

INCITING INCIDENT (call to adventure)

  1. Call to Adventure: Something extraordinarily different happens that they can’t ignore. Major setback.
  2. Head in Sand: The new interrupts the old and causes conflict. Reveals dissatisfaction with ordinary.
  3. Pull out Rug: Trying to fix ordinary world problems while resisting the lure of the supernatural world.

ACT II (part a)

FIRST PLOT POINT (point of no return)

  1. Enemies & Allies: Explore new world; meet characters, find their place and and role. Introduce all main characters.
  2. Games & Trials: Struggle to belong. Frustration and doubt. Trials and challenges. Promise of premise.
  3. Earning Respect: Small victory as lead proves capable. Fun and games. Begrudging acceptance.

1ST PINCH POINT (first battle)

  1. Forces of Evil: Stakes are raised, antagonists revealed.
  2. Problem Revealed: Surprise problem or situation. Demanding answers.
  3. Discovery & Ultimatum: New information, vulnerable share. In or out?

ACT II (part b)

MIDPOINT (victim to warrior)

  1. Mirror Stage: Self-realization or a discovery. Victim to Warrior.
  2. Plan of Attack: Plan of action to thwart antagonist’s forces or overcome main problem.
  3. Crucial Role: Trusted with an important task.

2ND PINCH POINT (second battle)

  1. Second Battle: They execute the plan, and come in direct conflict with antagonist’s forces.
  2. Surprise Failure: The plan goes horribly wrong, faulty information or assumption. Consequences.
  3. Shocking Revelation: The antagonist’s full plan/true identity is revealed. Stakes are raised. Guilt and anger.


2ND PLOT POINT (dark night of the soul)

  1. Giving Up: Lead loses confidence; the forces are too great. What they want is unattainable.
  2. Pep Talk: Encouragement from ally. Vulnerable share, inclusion. What’s at stake; choice.
  3. Seizing the Sword: Deliberate choice to continue, even if slim chance of success.

FINAL BATTLE (triumph-knowledge)

  1. Ultimate Defeat: Triumph of Villain. All hope is lost. Confront fatal flaw.
  2. Unexpected Victory: Secret weapon or ability, deep resolve, new understanding, unlikely ally. Remove glass shard. Sacrifice.
  3. Bittersweet Reflection: Temporary victory. Innocents saved. How far they’ve come.

REBIRTH (return to ordinary world) Optional: Hints of future challenges or antagonist lives.

  1. Death of Self: From ambition to service. Death of former self. Acknowledgment ceremony.
    Optional: Hints of future challenges or antagonist lives.

Derek Murphy’s 24-chapter plot outline is over on the CreativeIndie site.


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