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.




Repeat Safari Student

October 1, 2021

This month's class was my 3rd or maybe 4th Safari adventure. I'm an indie author with a full-time "essential worker" job and a brutal publishing schedule so for me to carve months out to devote to Safari...that tells you how valuable this class and working with Lisa on your story development will be for me every time. I prioritize it. I even took a book through Safari twice and it was worth every moment and every penny.

You get the lectures and they change slightly--or big time--from class to class because Lisa doesn't sit on the lectures. She continues to evolve the journey. Then it's all hands-on workshop so you take something different away with every class plus you know your story that much better.

Can't recommend highly enough that you block out the Safari class on your calendar in advance, enroll, and get ready to work on making your process shine whether you're a pantser (bless you fearless creators) or a plotter like me who has crammed story craft for years chasing process refinement. Safari will always be worth it.


A strong, inspiring story map

September 30, 2021

Just completed the Sept 2021 class and it was fabulous. I finished with a strong, logical, inspirational story map to propel me into writing up the first draft. I've taken this class before and each time it has been excellent. Lisa's comments are insightful and seeing others' work is also very helpful, not to mention enjoyable. To me, Lisa's Story Structure Safari is the best story outlining class or tool.

Bronwen Jones

Informative, powerful class

September 29, 2021

The information in the lessons blew me away. It created many a-ha moments for me, and working through the exercises gave me lots of ideas that I love for my new story. I finally have an outline I feel really good about.

I feel like I went from ten to a hundred in terms of understanding the important arcs and milestones of a story. I've always had a good sense of internal developments, but struggled with external ones in the past. I'm now much more confident in my plotting abilities, and am sure I'll continue to get better at it. This course offered a wonderful framework you can build off of to structure compelling and satisfying stories.


An unbiased instructor to guide you through structured building blocks of your writing.

October 4, 2020

Lisa does an excellent job with her Story Structure Safari. I'm answering the points given for a review.

The one obstacle I had before I signed up was the time involved to get through the lessons.

What I discovered while taking the class was that I really needed the structure to sharpen the different zones in my book.

What I like most about the class was the examples of the different steps she listed in each lesson. Those were really helpful.

Three other benefits of the class was seeing some of the sources Lisa followed. The input Lisa gave on our lessons. And an increased thirst for knowledge to keep learning.

Yes I would recommend the class because I don't believe in ever learning too much about your craft. Lisa was an instructor who took interest in what we did in a non-condescending way and was available with great ideas.

I would add you get out of the class what you put in.

Susan Welch

Plotting Perfection No Matter Where You're At In The Journey

September 29, 2020

This is taking your current plotting skills and elevating them to the next level no matter where you are in your journey or your story. Already know your characters' goals and motivations? You can go deeper. Already know your turning points? You can revise them.

I had two main concerns before signing up. I'm an introverted plotter and have self-studied most of my prior story structure knowledge. Plus, I brought a half-finished, plotted draft into the class. Both those worries ended in the first week.

Lisa will work with you, and give you the map you need to make your good story even better. It's not just "here's the lecture" either. She takes time to provide feedback for your homework, to give you additional ideas and plotting tools. I already plan to come back and Safari again.


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