The structure of a story is a simple equation, it’s what happens over time so it’s specifically bound by duration and action. The action is a series of plot points and the duration is a period of specific time. In its basic form, you can write it like the plot lines in a graph.

We don’t all mark time in the same way. Some of us use digital devices, some analogue, other’s prefer to watch the seasons pass or clouds shift outside the window. Here are some dramatic structures that I’ve noticed and how you can use them in a short website bio.

The Timeline

This structure has a clear beginning a lean middle and a resolute ending. The end is so different from the beginning that the journey is defining in itself. A good metaphor for this structure is a blade of grass. It begins as a seed, it grows roots, the sun shines and it soaks up water, then it grows to an achievable height. It’s long and lean because the cause and effect are efficient and simple.

This structure is really suited to summing up a plot in terms of cause and effect.

Bob was born in Kent, he studied maths at Oxford, after gaining a first, went on to a graduate scheme that resulted in an international managerial position at the accountancy firm Deloitte.

It works well when there are no specific hiccups or learning curves. It’s an attractive story and one reason why so many child stars are propelled into the press. The idea that we are born to do something fulfils a yearning in us for a plan going to plan.

The qualities of this structure are: quick, direct, specific.

It can be useful for sales pitches, ‘about the team’ bios and introductions.   

Making Ripples

This structure is about things moving from a central point outwards. It still has an obvious beginning and ending, but in this case, the ending is far-reaching and makes more impact than a straight timeline. The metaphor I use for this is dropping a stone into a pool. The beginning of the story needs to create such a large impact that waves of motion radiate outwards affecting everything in its path. In this story, you might add more details to the one above. You need to establish why this story has created such large ripples by adding some gravitas for context.

Bob was born an orphan and was bought up in the care system. It wasn’t until he was fostered by a nurturing family that he settled in his studies and won a scholarship to read Maths at Oxford. There he triumphed, getting a first and winning a place on the esteemed graduate program at Deloitte where he is now a Global Financial Sales Manager.

That one thing — being fostered — created a ripple effect that changed Bob’s whole life. It’s a charming rags-to-riches story that takes into account the overcoming of adversity. It admits that things haven’t always been easy, adds nuances of fallibility, but effectively shows how the story has changed everything around it.

The qualities of this structure are: holistic, repetitive, reflective.

It can be useful for personal branding, press & media releases, internal communications.

A Pendulum Swing

A swing structure takes into account two possible outcomes. It reflects the journey spent changing between two constants, which are most clearly expressed as opposites. Like David and Goliath, Conservative and Labour, Tom and Jerry, the drama recognises the constant struggle of a battle between two concepts. Unlike the two former categories, the beginning and end are not so different from each other, and you get a feeling the story is never really finished. It allows for greater complexity and reflects the often real-life scenario that results are never really fixed.

The obvious metaphor for this structure is the pendulum in a grandfather clock. It takes into account a slow middle and quick beginning and end.

Bob was the best fast bowler in the Kent Cricket Leagues under 15’s by the age of 13. After being measured at a country trail bowling at 75 mph he was scouted by Kent County Cricket Club under 18’s. However, after applying for the Oxford University Cricket Scholarship to study Maths, he went onto receive a first and went directly into a graduate apprenticeship scheme at Deloitte where he is now Global Financial Sales Manager.

Bob is not obviously going to end up as an internationally acclaimed accountant forever, he could go back to cricketing at any time. He was that good at it. It will make him seem well rounded, multi-talented and more complex than either of the Bobs we’ve met so far, but the binary presentation, while true, can create uncertainty. 

The qualities of this structure are: emphasis on journey, deliberation, binary decisions.

It can be useful for personal branding, a change in career CV, an interview, a social media post, a human interest media story.

Parallel Lines

This is a little like the pendulum, in that it’s still the journey between two points, but in this case, the journey is much shorter and more direct. More of a vibration than a swing, it accounts for the duality in things, and how difference happens on a knife-edge. The contrasts are so close they complement each other like Mind and Body, Sense and Sensibility, or Pinky and Brain.

The best metaphor for this is the digital clock which uses oscillation to mark the passing of time.

Bob travels the globe with his job as Global Financial Sales Manager at Deloitte, but as a young man growing up in the care system, he put all his energy into cricket, winning a place on the Kent County Under 18’s Club at the tender age of 13. He has ploughed this experience into the Deloitte community funding scheme by pioneering work with local youth cricket teams. He has set up an international Deloitte sponsored World Cricket Tournament for children in deprived regions and cities all over the world.

You see how this complexity ramps up the tension and sets the reader up to pay attention to the smallest of changes? Your attention is grabbed instantly, the news is shaping into a story with light and shadow.

You need to build up a good level of character and develop your plot carefully, but there’s an excitement that exists within the structure itself. The tightness of the weaving between two complementary points makes it sing like two harmonious musical notes.

The qualities of this structure are smooth interlacing, contrast, duality.

It’s useful for responsible marketing, social media, good news press.

The Spiral

This is a more complicated form in time, but a common one nonetheless. If you were to travel along a spiral shape on the floor, you would complete the first coils at a faster pace, slowing down as the spiral coils gets larger and larger. Unlike the ripple, which travels like a wave outwards, the spiral travels forwards in a straight line, allowing you to reflect on the beginning as well as see out into the future. It introduces a character-driven determination to identify how he started out small and got bigger. Most fictional stories

Spirals occur in nature all the time, they’re in seashells, sunflowers, tornados, and the double helix.

Bob remembers a time when all he could think about was bowling the cricket ball out in front of him, the spin, the curve, the arc, the speed of the ball. He could see the mathematical lines of movement that resulted from a flick of his fingers, the torque of his torso and the heft of his shoulder. He could judge the batsman from his posture, stance and the gestures he made with the bat in front of the stump. It was this love of precision that made him apply for the cricket scholarship to Oxford to read mathematics. He wanted to work with the best, and only the best. As grew into manhood, it was that love of accuracy that made him continue onto study accountancy. He could see his body fading in middle age as clearly as he could see the line of the ball in the air. The trajectory of a career that ends at 40 was not his path to take, he decided. He wanted to work with the best of the best forever, that was his driving force.

The qualities of this structure are reflective, consequential, characterful.

It’s useful for documentary, talks and speeches, synopsis.

The Möbius Strip

So far we’ve talked about drama in terms of time moving forwards alone. We all know and recognise stories that include flashbacks, and the möbius strip allows us to think of time as an hourglass rather than a marching line that reaches ever into the future. The loop is made by taking a strip of paper, twisting it and joining the ends. It enforces a third dimension on time, as you can walk along the strip, and your feet will touch both sides of the paper without ever crossing from one side to another. Sounds complicated, is complicated, but bear with me. What it introduces is the blurring of the distinction between the beginning and the end. It allows for fantasy and reality to cross seamlessly to create a ‘twist’ in the tale. Here you get story tropes like ‘it was all a dream,’ ‘ they were dead all along,’ ‘mistaken identity.’ Romeo and Juliette is a classic twist in the tale. Two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of warring households. Both young, beautiful and in love. The love is so strong they can’t continue to live their current life trajectories (Romeo banished, Juliet, married off) so they both return to non-existence (death), the twist being that they really didn’t mean to, they probably just wanted to run away. There’s no clear impactful beginning that affects them, there’s just a set of subplots and miscommunications that result in the twisted ending. The Mobius strip technique creates sophisticated literary-style plots based on oxymoron, juxtapose or irony. 

So, lets try this on Bob (forgive me for not being Shakespeare).

Bob, an orphaned teenager living in care, wanted nothing more than to become England’s greatest fast bowler. Through his passion, he was introduced to coaches that filled his head with skills and his heart with self-belief. One man, in particular, pushed him from a young age to excel himself. Then, one miraculous day, that man fostered him into his home. It was the first time he’d had a family to call his own. Little did he know, that behind the scenes a lot of money was being bet on his career as a professional for the county team, perhaps even for England. On his 16th birthday, he was in the Pavilion when he heard his name mentioned in a phone call. He listened more intently. It was about the club sponsorship. He was being touted as an offering, a monetary value attached his performance, and it was his new foster father who was doing the bargaining. Bob felt used, and from then on, decided that he would be the accountant in the family, even if it meant getting kicked off the team or kicked out of the house. No one would ever put a price on his head again.

The qualities of this structure are complex, surprise, revealing.

It’s useful for a personal memoir, full-length biography, fictional story.

Not exactly Shakespeare but I did manage to keep it within 200 words.