On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bubbles and Reveals

These are slippery, and I've been asked several times for clarification. Bubbles were in fact the last phenomenon I picked out while I was studying story, and since I didn't live with them as long as the other things I found, I worry I may not have articulated them well in my book, The Story Template.

I originally found Bubbles because a few people mentioned that my first novel's ending was good but seemed "a little abrupt." I wrote Lever before I understood story structure, and thus it deviates in minor ways from the classic pattern. However I felt I'd nailed the last quarter in accordance with the template, and couldn't figure out where was the problem. Then I went through my notes and charts again, and noticed that new story units incorporated a CHANGE OF SCENE. I checked a number of stories just for change of scene, and found that stories came down reliably with 7 - 10 of these in each quarter. Eureka. I checked Lever and found that I only had five bubbles in the last quarter. Voila, an abrupt ending.

The Bubbles are differentiated by change of scene, and divide the story goal into smaller goals. Each bubble keeps the story focused because it is self contained; each is, in a sense, a mini-narrative that keeps the reader from becoming bored.

A complete story has mini-stories, and these mini-stories have mini-mini stories, and so forth dividing down to the individual sentences. For example, in the newest Mission Impossible film, "Ghost Protocol," the story goal is to prevent a nuclear weapon from being released by a rogue theoretician named Cobalt. Let me (from memory) break down the first act into bubbles:


1. Tom Cruise escapes from Russian prison with a friend.

2. Tom meets team (Ben and Jane), and passes off his Russian prison friend to another car.

3. Flashback fills in background explaining there's been a theft of nuclear codes, and a previous agent was killed by a blonde assassin.


4. Tom receives assignment and accepts the challenge to stop the nuclear codes from getting into the open.


5. Tom breaks into Kremlin to get information on Cobalt.

6. Tom escapes from hospital.

7. Tom meets with Secretary in car and learns he's been disavowed.

8. Car is bombed and drives into river; Tom escapes.

9. Tom gets on train: his last refuge and planning center.



The Bubble represents a smaller unit of action within the whole story. It contains a smaller goal that is necessary but not sufficient to complete the overall story goal. In other words, the story is told as a series of mini-story goals (Bubbles) that are delineated or kept separate from the rest of the story by a unique location/time. Bubbles are in turn broken down into smaller sections to comprise about one to three scenes. As an example, for the bubble "Breaking into the Kremlin" above, there are three parts:

1. Enter the Kremlin.

2. Get into the room to find the information. (bomb goes off).

3. Escape Kremlin to exterior.


Reveals, on the other hand, are flexible. You can use them for a whole story, or cut them fine for a single scene. They simply give a shorthand for the throughline of the story. They break down the action of a story into an A --> B --> C --> D type format. For example, in the Bubble "Breaking into the Kremlin," Subaction "Enter the Kremlin," you could write:

Tom has to enter Kremlin --> BUT his security code is not loaded onto the computer yet.

Even with Tom's bluffs he's about to be arrested --> BUT the security code appears just in time.

Tom and Ben walk past the guard --> BUT Tom must reprimand Ben because Ben tweaks the guard.

And so forth.


I'm hoping this is clear? I'm currently working on a Story Template 2 to further refine the writing process, mainly focusing on the process of novel writing since that's what I do. Bubbles and Reveals are definitely something I want to clarify here. I'm aiming for a release date in 2013, so keep your fingers crossed for me!


  1. I think that what you refer to here as bubbles are sometimes called sequences. This was good clarification - thank you. I also have to thank you for your book. I think we're cut from the same cloth! I have been looking for someone to deeply explain exactly how to develop a story - not just analyze the structure, but to really dig deep and develop it. You gave me that and another thing I needed, which was help organizing all of that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing your book and sharing it. I have been grappling with this for ten years and have multiple abandoned novels. This is a life changer. I look forward to the second edition. THANK YOU!!!!

    Elona Sherwood

  2. If you list your new book on Amazon as "not yet released," people like me can sign up to be notified when it is available.