Story structure example: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (tip 81) 1

Some years ago, former-US President George W. Bush named The Very Hungry Caterpillar as his favourite childhood book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t published until he was 23 and fresh out of Yale. Still, while it’s not advanced post-graduate reading, it does have a perfect structure, from which we can learn a lot.

I’ve talked in the past about three act structure, inciting incidents, escalation, all that kind of stuff [see tip 17]. And I wanted to give you an example of a book with perfect structure. Where to turn? Pride and Prejudice? The Great Gatsby? A Passage to India? No, I present The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

So, if everyone’s sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin:

In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.

Act one, right? Ordinary life is being an egg on a leaf.

One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and pop! Out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.

The inciting incident, right? The egg hatches, the protagonist is thrust into a new world

He started to look for some food.

So we’re into act two, and the protagonist has a quest. He has to try to sate his appetite.

On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still hungry.
On Tuesday he ate through two pears, but he was still hungry.
On Wednesday he ate through three plums, but he was still hungry.

Note the escalation!

On Thursday he ate through four strawberries, but he was still hungry.
On Friday he ate through five oranges, but he was still hungry.
On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cup cake, and one slice of watermelon. That night he had a stomach ache!

We’re approaching the climax – the wee caterpillar can’t eat anymore!

Now he wasn’t hungry anymore- and he wasn’t a little caterpillar any more. He was a big, fat caterpillar.
He built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out…
He was a beautiful butterfly!

And so in act 3 he emerges into a new ordinary. The story is resolved, and it ends.
Perfect. Thanks for watching, and good luck with your writing.

The cover image for this video uses an image made by Daniela. It’s covered by a Creative Commons license, and you can find more of her work here:

One comment

  1. This caterpillar is my spirit animal because all it wants to do is eat its way through life and leave a wreckage of scraps behind. Be still my beating heart for you now know true love.

    Liked by 1 person

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