Big Little Lies: Structure & Style

Instructor: Nancy Breding

Nancy has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and has taught elementary and homeschool students.

Have you ever read a novel that is just too hard to put down? It may be that you are intrigued by the authors style or are carried along for the ride by the author's choice of structure. In this lesson, we will look at the writing style and structure of the novel, Big Little Lies by Liane Montgomery. Updated: 04/03/2021

Not Only Beginning, Middle, and End

A writer can create ups and downs by drawing a reader into the story through the use of their style and structure. In ''Big Little Lies'' by Liane Montgomery, she uses minor characters in the story to begin and end each chapter with questions the writer will answer throughout the story. She also structures the story through retelling. She takes the reader back to the months leading up to the major event of the story.

The ''mystery'' in the story is the event and the characters responsible are withheld until the final chapters of the novel. All this sets the reader on a hunt to find clues, motives, and character reveals to see if they can decide what happened in the story. In this lesson, we will look at how the author uses story structure and style to craft this mystery novel.

Story Structure

The story structure of a novel is how the story is organized. There are many ways that authors can structure a story. We are all familiar with the narrative structure in literature. Famous stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Charlotte's Web follow the parts of a narrative plot. These include the following:

  • Exposition (the beginning)
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Resolution

Fichtean Curve

Liane Montgomery uses a story structure that begins at the end, so to speak. The death of the antagonist, or the primary villain of the story, happens first. A Fichtean Curve is a story structure that begins with immediate rising action, followed by a series of fast paced crises. This structure allows the writer to propel the story forward setting up expectations. Montgomery uses this unusual structure to create a novel packed with tension from the very beginning. She then follows the three main characters through each mini-crises which eventually merges into the climax of the novel.

Let's take a brief look at the summary for this structure:

  • Inciting incident: The police detectives investigate the death of a parent at a school function.
  • 1st crisis: One of the three main characters, Madeline sprains her ankle and is helped by the other main character, Jane. There is another crisis of sorts when Jane, who is a single mother, must deal with her son who is accused of bullying another child at the kindergarten orientation. Montgomery uses the crisis for both women to reveal that Jane was a victim of violence and bullying at the hands of her son's biological father. The two form a strong bond to support one another.
  • 2nd crisis: The third main character, Celeste, celebrates Christmas with her family as she ponders leaving her husband. We slowly learn of his physical abusive behavior in the past.
  • 3rd crisis: Madeline learns that her daughter now wants to leave and live with her father and his new wife.
  • 4th crisis: Madeline learns that Jane's one night stand was someone they think is Celeste's husband's cousin.
  • 5th crisis: Jane learns of a petition circulating to exclude her son from all social activities at the school
  • 6th crisis: Perry, Celeste's husband, learns that his wife is planning to leave him since he received a phone call regarding her new apartment. There's a tremendous fight and Celeste is beaten.

Climax: The devastating and inevitable ending to the story is how all three characters worlds collide. Jane meets Celeste's husband and learns that he was her attacker. Celeste confronts her husband who hits her. Then another character sees the conflict and pushes Perry, who accidentally falls to his death over the railing.

Falling Action: The new normal for each of the characters is revealed as each gets back to a resolution for a new chance at life.

All of this structure is further enhanced by Liane Montgomery's style. A writer's style is created by his or her choices of words, sentence structures, tone, imagery, point of view, figurative language, symbolism, and mood.

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