Four Act Stories and Beyond
There are various forms of structure, including frameworks, work processes and goal setting.
A lot has been written about story structure. In my mind, understanding its value is priceless.
There is a lot of confusion around structure, creativity and innovation. You can find a good study that resolves much of the misinformation at managing-creativity.com. Ironically, there is much to learn about creativity and innovation from the business world, as there is an infinite amount of data and research out there. Top institutions, such as Harvard, take it very seriously.
The core concepts, with regard to story structure, include:
a) Structure increases the quantity and quality of creative output.
b) Novelty (commonly referred to as "originality") emerges from replication.
c) Certain structures help to meet the subconscious expectations of the audience.
By mapping your idea around an existing structural template, you can quickly expand that idea into a story. Once extrapolated, the needs of your particular story will begin to dictate your structure, hence you will cut and paste scenes until your story, in effect, becomes original. Then by working on each sequence to make it perfect, you eventually produce quality work.
But what structure?
The Western World has traditionally supported the concept of three act structure. But this is useless. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end and, for writers, this doesn't help much.
If you analyse many versions of three act structure you find that, in effect, you really have four acts. For example, Syd Field argues that three acts consist of an approximate 30:60:30 ratio. But the 60 has a mid point, so we're really talking 30:30:30:30.
But even four acts do not help much.
You can analyse four acts to reach five or seven acts. But even they are useless. The problem is that they are too broad. OK, I agree, templates only have value if they are broad, but we need more.
A huge leap is the monomyth or Hero's Journey. The monomyth can be traced back to Gilgamesh in about the 26th century BC, through to the Shahnama around 1000 A.D. and so on. The latest incarnation is that of Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1948).
Campbell's Hero's Journey consists of 17 stages. So here we have 17 acts, which is much more useful to the story writer.
But the Hero's Journey ends once the Hero has returned home and provided the Freedom to Live, whereas in modern film (call them contemporary stories) the hero returns once more to battle the antagonist. So in effect we can say that we have Campbell's 17 stages and then another encapsulated in the Final Conflict. So 18 stages.
But the 18th stage can be broken down into Preparation / Final Antagonism / Journey to the Final Conflict / Battle / Moral Dilemma / Completion / Freedom to Live. Hence we arrive at 24 stage structure.
The Hero's Journey can be extrapolated into many more stages.
The question you may ask yourself now is this: how representative is the monomyth or Hero's Journey of ALL stories? In other words, what value does it really have as a template? And as I am implying, a universal template?
The best way to answer that is to search out someone with more credibility than me, that is: read a book about it. A good start is Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, ISBN: 0330375911. He compares a diverse variety of cinematic blockbusters to drive home the point.
Whether you go for the idea of the monomyth or not, the idea of working from a template is very valid, or at least helpful. And it applies not just to screenplays, but to sitcoms and novels too. What you need to do is decide which template works for you. There are quite a few out there.
From the above it follows that (most) stories are structurally derivative and yet can be very original. Watch a diverse range of films - from Midnight Cowboy to Al Pacino Scarface to Casablanca to whatever you choose, analyse them sequence by sequence and you will see stark structural similarities.
In fact, when stories are not structurally derivative then they usually turn out to be "weird" because the audience has certain subconscious expectations as to how a story should evolve. And when they are not met....well, people will just refer to it as not a proper story.
The 106 stage Hero's Journey and other story structure templates can be found at http://www.managing-creativity.com/CreativeWriting.html
You can also receive a regular, free newsletter by entering your email address at this site.
Kal Bishop, MBA
You are free to reproduce this article as long as no changes are made and the author's name and site URL are retained.
Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on http://www.managing-creativity.com/
Have You Tested Your Plot?
Creative Writing Tips ?
Basic Writing Tips ? Some Controversial, All Correct
As a previous article ("Making Better Word Choices ? 4 Examples") explained, writers can take steps to prevent simple, and common, errors from degrading their writing. Five areas of writing that cause authors problems are discussed in this article.
How to Come Up with Fresh Story Ideas
How to Come Up with Fresh Story Ideas When Your Well has Been Tapped Dry
Writing Helpful Help ? A Minimalism Checklist
User documentation is all too often written by programmers for programmers. It tends to focus on the product's features, rather than the user's tasks. Generally, programmers aren't in the ideal position to be writing user documentation. They're too close to the bits and bytes, and they're too far from the user. To them, what the product can do tends to be far more important than what the user can do with the product.
A Book Note Vs a Book Report
Why Researching Is Good, And A Failure To Do So Is Not
What a lack of research could do to you.
Basic Word Processing Tips for Writers
Word processors are so widely used now that I tend to take it for granted that most writers know how to perform basic tasks (e.g. double space their work, count the number of words, and indent a paragraph automatically). Every so often, however, I see a manuscript that reminds me that there are a lot of writers who are still using a word processor as they would an old-fashioned typewriter.
No matter what you are writing, the first priority is write the first draft.
Write Your Story, Put It On A Website, Sell Millions of Copies
Although he has his own website, John Grisham probably does very little self-promotion. When you have Doubleday on your side, most of the marketing is done for you. There are not too many John Grisham's out there though, so the unknown authors, with small publishing houses, have to be responsible for marketing themselves. This is not hard work, but it does take persistence and ingenuity. Follow this model, and you'll be successful.
Learning to Question Your Elephant Child: Who, What, Where, When and Why
Having problems writing? I don't know why. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll writes up to five columns a week. After all, if he can write five columns, you should be able to write a five-lined poem-but that does not seem to be the case.
Formats for Writing Life Narratives
Q and A.
Do The Unfamiliar To Keep Your Writing Going
One of the best ways to blow someone's winning streak during a tennis game is to comment on how great they are doing. Your comment will kick in their left brain's inner critic which will zap their flow and change their focus. In tennis this is an underhanded type of gamesmanship.
Writing New Ideas
Someone once commented that there were no new ideas to write, that all that could be done was a recombination of the words and phrases for a deeper, more personal expression of meaning. They have completely missed the point and purpose to 'writing'.
Starting a Freelance Writing Career (or How I Sifted Through the Muck and Found My Way)
So, the decision is final. I am a writer.
Frequently Asked Questions from Writers
1. What Is A Premise?
How New Authors Can Keep Their Manuscripts Coherent
In large publishing houses, many manuscripts penned by first-time authors, never make it past the "first reader" who for all practical purposes is a gatekeeper of sorts. This person's job is to weed out manuscripts that do not fit certain established submission criteria. However, many never make it to the editor's desk, simply because they are badly disorganized and downright incoherent.
A Writers Life
Ever wonder what an author's life is like? What that breathing, sweating, hungry, weary, bona fide guy does when he's not at the keyboard? How does his "day job" affect his writing? When he's mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, or babysitting grandchildren ? what goes through his mind? Is he sucking up every sensation as he moves through his day, tucking tidbits away for a future piece? Or, does he simply journey through life, just ? doing ? these things?
You Can Be An Author
"You should write a book." For years, I had been hearing this comment. Writing an entire book seemed completely overwhelming, and so, for a long time, I contented myself with writing short articles. One day, inspiration for an article hit me and, as I started writing, paragraphs began flowing out at an enormous rate. Before I knew it, a rather lengthy piece was developing. It was too long to be an article, so, I decided it would not hurt to try self-publishing a little booklet. Was I ever surprised! The first printing of this 32-page black and white booklet sold out within a week.
Write SMART: How to Create Terrific Writing Goals - And Achieve Them!
Open up your favorite calendar and circle today's date.
COULD YOU (not) REPEAT THAT PLEASE?
I recently read a book where everything was akimbo. Arms were akimbo, legs were akimbo. Akimbo appeared on every page. Okay every page is a slight exaggeration, but akimbo was in every chapter more than once. I started thinking of the hero in the book as Adam West's posturing Batman persona. Every writer is guilty of the akimbo type of repetitiveness once in awhile. Most of the time we're not even aware that we're echoing ourselves. How do these unconscious akimbo dittos creep into our work? The English language is so rich with descriptors, why would we rob our manuscripts of the warmth and color that this richness brings to our work? Simply put -- we're lazy. When the afore mentioned writer was feverishly scribbling away on her book, she arrived at a moment when her character took a stance, and the first word that popped into her head was akimbo. Writing akimbo was easier than it would be to stop the flow of her writing and come up with a different way of saying akimbo. The only problem is instead of going back to edit out ninety percent of the akimbos, she left them in and it became a distraction to the reader (and humorous to me, which I'm sure wasn't her intention). Don't let yourself get lazy. Go through your work and get rid of repetitive words. Especially if they're words like akimbo that are not used in everyday conversation. If you need help, go to the Georgetown Linguistics website and use their frequency index tool (see the web address below). Copy your text into the box provided and click on the "Do it!" button. This website will give you a list of every word and how many times it was used in your manuscript. I would suggest (and this is just my opinion) that if you discover that you've used akimbo more than twenty-nine times, get rid of all but one of them. By the way akimbo appears 13 times in this passage. Annoying wasn't it!
|© Athifea Distribution LLC - 2013|