Margie Lawson

Make your writing soar


Story Structure Safari

Beautiful words and exciting scenes aren't enough to propel the reader through a novel. Stories need a plan, a focus, a solid structure from beginning to end.

In this 30-day course, you will explore the story structure elements, transformational character arcs, and plot that make up powerful, bestselling stories. You will learn how to analyze examples, from bestselling novels, movies, or TV shows, for each story element or concept. A variety of activities and techniques help you hone your skills and infuse these elements and concepts into your own story. You’ll receive feedback from the instructor, and often from other classmates, to aid in your understanding of the concepts as you apply them to your story.

Story Structure Safari’s goal is to help you dig deep into the heart of your story and focus on how to consistently meet or exceed your reader’s expectations.

What is Story Structure?

A story is created by weaving together two major components, Plot and Character, within a setting or world. Both the plot and characters change and evolve as the story unfolds. Neither plot nor character can stand alone.       

Story Structure helps the writer identify elements and patterns throughout a story. Story Structure aids in understanding how those elements can be woven together to create a powerful, effective story that meets or exceeds reader expectations.

Story Structure is a framework to help identify and create:

  • Important scenes or Turning Points that propel the reader to wonder what will happen next. 
  • Character interactions, actions, and reactions that reveal the nature of characters and how they need to change as the story progresses. 
  • Settings or worlds that are revealed through the eyes of the characters, and how these worlds or settings impact the characters and the plot.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to identify the core elements of your story. This includes the genre, the subject (what the story is about), the thematic point of view, the internal character goal and fatal flaw, the external relationship goal and obstacles.
  • How to distill your story into a Safari Plotline.
  • How to identify three threads in your story: Relationship thread, Internal thread, and the Plot or External thread.
  • How to recognize the four-zone story structure, the main purpose of each zone, and the specific elements that are special to each zone.
  • How to map out the Landmarks (important elements, scenes and turning points) in the four zones.
  • How to compare your protagonist to the archetype character in each zone and show that on the page.
  • How to identify the interdependence of plot, character arc, and setting in each zone.
  • How to use your completed lesson worksheets and instructor and class feedback from the online forums to fully develop your story idea, write your first draft, or edit the draft you have completed.

Who Should Take This Course:

  • For writers who have become stymied while writing the first draft or a subsequent draft of their novel.
  • For successfully published authors who want to learn more about creating powerful stories to exceed reader expectations.
  • For writers who have an idea for a novel but don’t know how to get started writing or even planning the story.
  • For writers who want to learn and practice some new skills to analyze bestselling works and be able to apply that new knowledge to their future writing.
  • For novice writers who want to learn more about what character and plot elements make up a story.
  • For writers who want to write more quickly by avoiding tangents and redundancies and wasted scenes that will ultimately be deleted because they don’t reveal character or move the plot forward.

Lesson Plan

Welcome Lesson:

  • Nuts and bolts of the class and meeting classmates and teacher.
  • Identify your story’s genre and subject.
  • Distill your story into a Safari Plotline.

Lesson 1: Overarching Story

  • Get a big-picture snapshot of the four-part story structure.
  • Define briefly the four zones.
  • Study your story, WIP, plan, or idea and see how it breaks down according to the Four Zone structure.
  • Revisit the Safari Plotline sentence you created in the Welcome lesson to understand how it keep your story focused and identify obstacles your protagonists may face.
  • Identify the three layers or R.I.P. Threads in your story.

Lesson 2: Overarching Story

  • Explore the power of imbalance in story.
  • Identify the Thematic Point of View of your story.
  • Discover your protagonist’s Internal Character Goal and External Relationship Character Goal.
  • Discover your protagonist’s Character Fatal Flaw.
  • Identify an Obstacle Statement for your protagonist.
  • Identify possible obstacles and antagonists for your protagonist.
  • Identify Character Traits to portray the values you created for your protagonist.

Lesson 3: Zone 1 Part 1

  • Identify the Main Mission of Zone 1: The Set-Up
  • Define the four functions of the Set-Up zone.
  • Identify and map out the Landmarks of Zone 1: Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, and the First Plot Point.
  • Explore the Ordinary World of your story and unearth opportunities to hook your reader.

Lesson 4: Zone 1 Part 2

  • Explore the journey of the protagonist, as an Orphan archetype.
  • Identify how being out-of-balance and resistant to change impact the protagonist.
  • Revisit the R.I.P. threads.
  • Check story trajectory and how the First Plot Point impacts the Protagonist and the story.

Lesson 5: Zone 2 Part 1

  • Identify the main mission of Zone 2: Response
  • Define the four functions of the Response zone.
  • Identify and Map out the Landmarks of Zone 2: The Exotic World, 1st Pinch Point, Boulder Scenes, and the Midpoint.
  • Explore the Antagonist in greater detail.

Lesson 6: Zone 2 Part 2

  • Explore the journey of the Protagonist, as a Wanderer archetype.
  • Identify how the protagonist’s fears and goals influence the story.
  • Revisit the R.I.P. threads.
  • Check story trajectory and how the First Pinch Point and the Midpoint impacts the Protagonist.

Lesson 7: Zone 3 Part 1

  • Identify the main mission of Zone 3: Attack
  • Define the four functions of the Attack zone.
  • Identify and map out the Landmarks of Zone 3: The Period of Grace, 2nd Pinch Point, The Fall, and the 2nd Plot Point.
  • Learn how a powerful Antagonist grips readers and is important to the development of this zone.

Lesson 8: Zone 3 Part 2

  • Explore the journey of the Protagonist, as a Warrior archetype.
  • Identify the Period of Grace.
  • Identity how the Protagonist will be challenged at the 2nd Pinch point.
  • Identify and map the Fall and the Protagonist’s resistance to change.
  • Check story trajectory and how the 2nd Plot Point/Crisis impacts the Protagonist.

Lesson 9: Zone 4 Part 1

  • Identify the main mission of Zone 4: Resolution.
  • Define the four functions of Zone 4.
  • Identify and map out the Landmarks of Zone 4: The Descent, Transformational Moment, The Climax, and the Resolution.
  • Illustrate the story’s Resolution.

Lesson 10: Zone 4 Part 2

  • Explore the journey of the Protagonist, as a Martyr archetype.
  • Identify and map the Descent.
  • Identify the Transformational Moment for the Protagonist.
  • Explore the Climax.
  • Reveal a new start for the Protagonist at the end.

Wrap-Up Lesson: Overarching Story

  • Track your Story for the entire four Zones.
  • Track your Protagonist for the entire four Zones.


Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller retired from teaching and counseling after 30 years. While she loved writing YA fiction, she has been drawn back into teaching. Not always finding the writing classes she needed; Lisa scoured the internet and how-to books for self-instruction. She funneled that knowledge into the creation of the Story Structure Safari class and merged it with her master teaching skills and experience with different learning styles. This is her ninth year to teach the class and she continues to update materials and expand her knowledge to best meet writer needs.




Sweat equity equals breakthroughs in character and plot

May 17, 2023

When I say Lisa's classes are rich with material, I'm not kidding. If you do the brain work she asks for, you will achieve major advancements in your characters and story. Lisa's lessons and expert guidance helped me to drill deeper into both my heroine's and antagonist's goals, which gave an energy and organic feel to the plot that was lacking before.

When planning a class with Lisa, whether Story Structure Safari or Constellation of Characters, I arrange my schedule so I have time to do the exercises. The rewards are well worth it.


Mindblowing Course!

August 1, 2022

I have raved about this course to other writing friends.

When I took the course the first time, Lisa analysed my manuscript and highlighted some major flaws which I worked on and I then took the course for a second time.

Again, there were underlying issues with the structure of my manuscript. While I worked on the problems, my mind was blown by how much I started to understand relationships, archetypes, the protagonist's journey, and so much more. My brain expanded as my manuscript improved. It was an interesting journey.

I then took my manuscript for a third run through the course with the worksheets provided.

When I finally published my book I was relieved to have consistent 5-star reviews, with remarks on the flow of the book and how readers didn't want it to end! I am writing my second novel and plan to go through the Story Structure Safari when it is finished.

Huge accolades to Lisa Miller and her amazing course - and to Margie Lawson's Writing Academy - I have completed 22 of Margie's Courses.

Jean Ross

This class taught me so much!

May 3, 2022

I am a newbie author. This class not only helped me understand complex concepts that I was struggling with, such as the character arc and the relationship between the 3 arcs of a story, external, internal and relational, but it also helped me structure my story and characterize my characters in an unexpected way. Lisa's comments were very accurate and inspiring. It's really a chance to have such help when you are a beginner. I will definitely be attending Lisa's next two classes in June for character creation and in September for another Safari


Stuck? Break glass here!

April 28, 2022

Take this if you are stuck. I wish I could take this course for each of my books. The prompts do exactly what they are intended to do and help you move through all the plot elements in the story and make certain those dominoes are stacked strategically (for maximum impact) and ready to fall. I will say that if you take this course make sure you are ready to work because you will fill a binder but your story will be so lock-step better for it.

Amy Irish

Wonderful Course!

October 5, 2021

I'm a pretty experienced writer; having ghost written several books and a moderately successful indie pen name under my belt. I signed up because I was having trouble with a particular story I was working on, even though I've read ALL the craft books, including the ones she recommended in this course. Sometimes when a story is being particularly stubborn and you are too close to it, you need an outsider's advice to help you navigate things. I highly recommend it for any writer, newbie or experienced, who feels they are stuck on a story and thinks that structure will help you solve the problem!


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