John Green and Subverting Traditional Story Structure (Reading & Writing YA Series, Part One)

In this series, Reading and Writing Young Adult, I'll be looking at the different ways that young adult fiction authors use and subvert writing techniques to tell unique stories. I'll also be including a practical applications for the aspiring YA writer, giving a writing exercises based on the author's work in some way.

Ready to delve in? In Part 1, we're looking at the king of YA himself: John Green.


In John Green's debut novel, Looking for Alaska, we meet Miles 'Pudge' Halter as he moves to a boarding school for his Junior year. What we can expect is a classic coming-of-age tale, and in many respects, Green gives us just that; circumstances develop that bring Miles to a final realisation about himself and the world around him, leaving him a little more 'adult' than when we started.

The interesting thing about Looking For Alaska's structure is that Green uses the classic story arc and subverts it.

I'll explain further: traditionally, story structure can be categorised into five main points, like a mountain with its peak. Like this:

Just a quick google search for '5 point story structure' will bring up plenty of similar images.

Typically, the major climatic point - the crisis - comes around three quarters of the way into the story; it's the thing that forces the central character(s) to make big decisions, bringing about a resolution that has resulted in a major change. This could be a change in the character's personality, living circumstances, relationships - it's something that disrupts and brings about a new status quo that is fundamentally different than the one at the story's beginning.

So how does Looking For Alaska fit this five-point model?

What John Green does in this book is bring the major crisis forward. Instead of the climactic moment happening around three quarters in, it happens around halfway, meaning that the majority of the book is spent on the main character's searching for a resolution.

Yes, it's a little more complicated than that, but I can't say much more without giving away a major SPOILER.


'Looking For Alaska' is set in a boarding school (not in Alaska though - that's the name of one of the characters!)

PROMPT: write about a time you've been away from home for a long time. How did you feel? Was it scary? Liberating?

Don't want to write about yourself? Create a character or use one from a story you already know and write from their perspective.

Next time, we'll be looking at the way former-Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman, uses characterisation in her YA novel, Chasing the Stars.

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