In December's issue of Poets and Writers, I have finally come across what is probably a basic lesson in writing.
In The Literary Life section, Benjamin Percy in his article Don't Look Back (about using too much backstory), he states ---- At one time or another you've probably heard a writing instructor talk about the A-B-C-D-E structure of a story, an acronym for:
The article goes on to talk about how forward movement is so critical, and too much background can bog down a story (he makes an exception for first person narrative, the reasons for which, I'm still digesting).
I think this is a great acronym to have for after you've written your first draft. I like first drafts that explore a character, because if you look at the structure of the Millenium Trilogy books (Dragon tattoo), then you know Stieg Larsson's structure involves a lot of background before he gets into the story, but what keeps the reader engaged is this dark character - Lisbeth Salander.)
Once the character, and all the motives, needs, and wants are established, then this tool can be applied to structure the narrative of the story. In various writing groups I've been in, and even some published literary works, it seems this simple foundational element of a story is missing (or at least, missed by me, your very average reader !).
By the way, the very accomplished Anne Patchett, in State of Wonder, uses this approach masterfully - starting with the death of the herione's (Marina Singh) mentor -- (ACTION !), to the peperring in of details of her relationship with her mentor (BACKGROUND), her trip to the amazon (DEVELOPMENT), the various run-ins with Dr. Swenson (CONFLICT), to the eventual, and surprising ENDING (no spoilers!).
See, it's not so hard.
Keep writing - !