The Story Spine

This week, I’ll be doing my express creative writing workshops in two libraries. These workshops aim to help people put together stories in the shortest possible time, in this case, two hours. You may be wondering how it’s possible to tell your story in two hours. It’s actually surprisingly doable, particularly with the help of a story spine. I’ve introduced story spines to my workshops in recent times to speed up the process of writing their stories.

What is a story spine, you might ask?

It may be trite to say this, but it is literally the spine of your story. Like the spine in your body, it holds your story together. It gives you a structure that you can add flesh to. It’s a series of sentences with words deliberately left out, so it’s up to you to decide how the sentence is completed. The sentences are designed to help you plot the beginning, middle and end of your story.

A story spine is a skeleton that you can hang your story on.
A story spine is a skeleton that you can hang your story on.

What to Put in A Story Spine

The first sentences introduce you to your character.

There was once a man called ____

They also set the scene

He lived in a ______

In the middle of the story, a problem is presented which the character must solve. You also learn more about the character and their role in the story.

The treasure was stolen because _____

Only (the character) could rescue it, because _________

Towards the end of the story, the story spine centres on how the problem is resolved.

(The character) got the treasure back when he ______-

Technical Point

You’ll notice I put (the character) in brackets. When creating your story spine, you’ll need to be careful about how to refer to the character, since you don’t know what sort of character the write creates. When referring to the character, I put (name) in brackets after the blank space, so the writer can insert the name they’ve chosen for their character. Elsewhere, I refer to the character as he/she, and the writer can cross out whichever pronoun doesn’t apply.

Bringing the Story Together

Story spines are beneficial because they help people organise their thoughts and they can see how the ingredients of a story fit together. In the workshops I’ll be doing this week, we’ll do three activities to help participants come up with a character, plot and setting. The participants will then use the ideas they came up with during the activities to fill out the story spine. By filling it out, they’ll start to see how they can use the information they gathered during the activities to help them finish the story.

When they finish the story spine, they then flesh out the story. I indicate to them which parts of the story spine to use for the beginning, which for the middle and which for the end. For example, sentences 1-6 could be used to set the scene in the beginning, 7-12 for the climactic middle and 12-18 for the exciting ending.

Have you ever used story spines yourself, as a creative writing student or tutor?

3 thoughts on “The Story Spine

  1. I needed to read this. I have no problem writing a story from a prompt but without a prompt my ideas all blend into one non story. I will definitely be employing this and bookmarking in case I forget. Thank you


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