Today we are going to be looking at story structure. In a lot of respects this is as simple as beginning, middle and end. Of course, each of these aspects are challenging in and of themselves, and it helps to know what you want to achieve.
Of course the classic example of this is “Once upon a time…” It works because it establishes this provides an air of mystery, we don’t know where or when this story is set but immediately we want to know.
This is also true of opening sequences in films. While we may be introduced to the hero sometimes it is better to establish the situation first before we meet them (Die Hard With A Vengeance’s opening sequence is a great example, as it creates a mood before thrusting you into the action).
Arguably the trickiest aspect of the story structure as you want a strong opening to engage and a great finish, but bridging the two can be hard. This is where it pays to be disciplined- you may have a favourite character, line or moment but if it is slowing your story or it doesn’t fit the tone cut it out. If you’re not sure about this, ask someone for feedback (We’ll cover feedback in more detail later) to help you.
The idea of an ending is you want people to feel satisfied. A common phrase is “unexpected but inevitable.” You don’t necessarily need a happy ending or a shocking plot twist, but the story structure should allow for a setup with a payoff. A great example is Some Like It Hot- literally a comedy film that ends with a punchline!
Now some people reading this may think “But what about Memento/Pulp Fiction etc?” It is true, these films do twist round the story structure. But here’s the thing- those types of stories are difficult to write and if you look at them the three act beginning, middle and end are still there, it is just that those events have been cleverly rearranged to play with your expectations.
I’m not saying you can’t write these kinds of stories. However it is important to be careful because changing the order of events can be hard to track. Including flashbacks, dream sequences, narrators and so forth can all work but these are tools and work depending on how you use them. For example, the voiceover in The Shawshank Redemption gives the film a mythic quality.
At the end of the day, you need to decide what story you want to tell. Is it tragic? Comedic? Remember- you need to balance out what people want with an additional twist that you can add to it.
What do you want to do?
Ultimately, you have to think about how you want to tell a story. It is worth remembering the same story can be very different depending on how it’s told. For example, you may talk about a manager of a football team who won the title three years in a row, and focus on his incredible methods that won those achievements.
Alternatively you may tell the same story from the perspective of a player, who finds those incredible methods are tough and struggles to get through them, but ultimately benefits. Another story may be from the perspective of their partner, who feels that the manager’s obsessiveness harmed their relationship.
This is what we mean- the essential story is the same but the way it is structured can completely change the tone. For more help on this I recommend reading Story by Robert McKee and The Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
Next time, we will look at character and what you need to be aware of when developing heroes, villains etc.
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