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.




The right class at the right moment

September 29, 2020

This was the right class at the right moment. I took Story Safari five years ago when I was working on what eventually became my debut novel, and I found the notes invaluable as I worked on my second book. This time around, I was partway through the first draft of a manuscript, knew it wasn't working, but wasn't sure how to fix it. By working my way through the whole process again (with homework and Lisa's feedback to keep me on track), I now have a much stronger handle on what I need to address.

You'll benefit most from this class if you plan to dedicate some serious time to it. In return, you'll have a comprehensive understanding of story structure and character development that will power you forward to a great book.

Rebecca Hodge

After Twenty Years of Frustration . . .

January 30, 2020

I finally learned there is life after pantsing. I took my first SSS class back in 2015, and have taken it every year since. SSS teaches the underlying principles of storytelling, much like learning the laws of physics. You don't have to believe in gravity, but you'll still fall if you lose your balance. So too with storytelling. Theme. Plot. First Plot Point. Protagonist. Midpoint. The Fall. The Crisis. Character Arcs. Lisa teaches each essential element and how they fit together, using examples from literature, bestsellers, and movies.

At heart, she's a teacher- tough, demanding, but also patient and compassionate. Lisa got me out of my circular thinking and coached me through the discipline to take a raw story idea or a work in progress and craft a plot structure that works. Plenty of room for creativity and brainstorming, and a lot of surprises along the way.

I try to take every story I write, from raw concept to finished structure, through the SSS class. As a result, my writing is stronger, more flexible, more compelling. I can't think of a more efficient or effective way of working with a story coach.

I'm looking forward to the next class.

Kathleen "KC" Parrish

Plot Wizardry

January 28, 2020

Story Safari is a class jam-packed with many, many golden nuggets of plot wizardry-wisdom. No section of your story will be left untouched once you embark on Story Safari. And Lisa makes sure you enjoy the ride. This is a class you may want to take with each book you write.

Suzanne Purvis

Why I automatically enroll every time it's offered...

January 27, 2020

If Lisa offers the class, I clear my schedule, block off the month, and warn family and friends to schedule events after my class is complete because I am ready to get to work and listen to the great advice and lessons.

I recommend Story Structure Safari to anyone who wants to write a compelling story, not just a novel. We all are hard-wired for stories and we crave them to be structured in a certain way, but most of us are oblivious to why we believe a movie or book is good or bad. This class has turned me into a structure junky. I am now like a curious kid tearing apart stories of all types to see what makes them tick.

No matter how much I think I understand my story trajectory when I start the class, Story Structure Safari takes my ideas and pushes me to make the story more engaging. Lisa asks tough questions to make sure the important pieces of the story meets both the reader's expectations and the story's trajectory. I must think about the story I want to tell and what it needs instead of slapping random things on the page and pray it will make sense in the end.

Melissa Borg

Safari turned this pantser into a plotter (mostly).

January 27, 2020

Tossing out a hundred-page tangent didn't cure me of my pantser tendencies.

Losing time in multiple revisions didn't cure me, either.

Lisa Miller's Story Structure Safari class cured me.

Now, I take each of my books through Safari before I write them. Not only does what I learned in Safari keep my books from veering off-track, it helps me to build stronger characters with better motivations and more insurmountable conflicts. I learned how to indulge my pantser tendencies to noodle around in the weeds without getting lost in them. You will use what you learn in Safari with every book you write.

Babette de Jongh

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