Organic Architecture: Links to the Whole Series

Organic Architecture SpiralI want to thank everyone for reading my Organic Architecture Series! I realize this was a long series with lots of posts. The following are the links to all the different articles. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference!

Happy plotting, structuring, and designing, everyone!

Organic Architecture Series:

Classic Design and Arch Plot:

Alternative Plots:

Alternative Structures:

Designing Principle:

Full Bibliography for this Series:

Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. New York: Adams Media, 2011.
Anderson, Tobin. “Theories of Plot and Narrative.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Critical Thesis. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. July 2009.
Bechard, Margaret. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2008.
Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narative Craft. 8th Edition. New York: Longman, 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Second Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Campbell, Patty. “The Sand in the Oyster: Vetting the Verse Novel.” The Horn Book Magazine. Sept.-Oct.2004: 611-616.
Capetta, Amy Rose. “Can’t Fight This Feeling: Figuring out Catharsis and the Right One for Your Story.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. Jan 2012.
Carver, Renee. “Cumulative Tales Primary Lesson Plan.” Primary School. 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Aug 2012.
Chapman, Harvey. “Not Your Typical Plot Diagram.” Novel Writing Help. 2008-2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.
Chea, Stephenson. “What’s the Difference Between Plot and Structure.” Associated Content. 16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Doan, Lisa. “Plot Structure: The Same Old Story Since Time Began?” Critical Essay. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2006.
Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Revised ed. New York: Delta, 2005.
Fletcher, Susan. “Structure as Genesis.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1927.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.
Gulino, Paul. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Hauge, Michael. Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: Collins Reference, 2001.
Hawes, Louise. “Desire Is the Cause of All Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Kalmar, Daphne. “The Short Story Cycle: A Sculptural Aesthetic.” Critical Thesis, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Kaufman, Charlie. “Charlie Kaufman: BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture Transcript.” BAFTA Guru. British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Aug. 2012.
Larios, Julie. “Once or Twice Upon a Time or Two: Thoughts on Revisionist Fairy Tales.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Layne, Ron and Rick Lewis. “Plot, Theme, the Narrative Arc, and Narrative Patterns.” English and Humanities Department. Sandhill Community College. 11 Sept, 2009. Web. 7 May 2011.
Lefer, Diane. “Breaking the Rules of Story Structure.” Words Overflown by Stars. Ed. David Jauss, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 62-69.
Marks, Dara. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Ojai: Three Mountain Press, 2007. McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
McManus, Barbara F. Tools for Analyzing Prose Fiction. College of New Rochelle, Oct. 1998. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.
Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Story Structure Architect. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2005.
Sibson, Laura. “Structure Serving Story: A Discussion of Alternating Narrators in Today’s Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
Tanaka, Shelley. “Books from Away: Considering Children’s Writers from Around the World.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Tobias, Ron. Twenty Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Story- teller. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 2007.
TV Tropes. Three Act Structure. TV Tropes Foundation, 26 Dec. 2011. Web. 11. Sept. 2012.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd Edition. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
Williams, Stanley D. The Moral Premise. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2006.

Alternative Structures (Part 2)

In my last post we began our survey of alternative story structures. That post covered non-linear structure, episodic structure with an arc, wheel structure, and meandering structure.

Today we’ll continue to push past the traditional story structure idea of a mountain or triangle shape to consider branching structure, spiral structure, multiple POV structure, parallell structure, and cumulative structure!

Again, you could apply these structural ideas to a traditional mountain shape, or let them create their own rhythm and energy.

Branching Structure

BRANCHING STRUCTURE

This structure consists of “a system of paths that extend from a few central points by splitting and adding smaller and smaller parts … Each branch usually represents a complete society in detail or a detailed stage of the same society that the hero explores” (Truby). This is a popular structure used in non-fiction books.

  • Film Examples: It’s a Wonderful Life, Nashville, Traffic.
  • Book Examples: Gulliver’s Travels (Swift), Phineus Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science (Fleishman).

Spiral Structure Image

SPIRAL STRUCTURE

Spiral structure “is a path that circles inward to the center…[wherein] a character keeps returning to a single event or memory and explores it at progressively deeper levels” (Truby).

  • Film Examples: Vertigo, The Conversation, Memento.
  • Book Examples: Before I Fall (Oliver), How to Tell a True War Story (O’Brien).

Multiple POV

MULTIPLE POINT-OF-VIEW STRUCTURE

This structure has multiple protagonists and provides the point-of-view (POV) of multiple characters. Variations include one character telling his/her whole story and then another character telling a different version of the story. Another popular style is alternating viewpoints (chapter-by-chapter) as the story progresses. In film, multiple POV can sometimes be accompanied by a split-screen technique.

  • Film Examples: He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not, Rules of Attraction, Sliding Doors.
  • Book Examples: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Cohn & Levithan), The Scorpio Races (Stiefvater), Jumped (Williams-Garcia), Skud (Foon), Keesha’s House (Frost), Blink & Caution (Wynne-Jones), Tangled (Mackler).

Parallel structure

PARALLEL STRUCTURE

(Also known as: Parallel Substitution Structure, Multiple Personality Structure)

This structure has dual or multiple storylines that mirror and reflect each other. Stories can include different protagonists or a single protagonist in different “lives.” Storylines often exist within separate time frames, dimensions, or locations. In the instance of parallel substitution structure, actual events in a protagonist’s storyline are substituted with thematic stories such as fables, religious stories, myth, or a parallel thematic scene. The reader is meant to make the thematic and causal connections through the substitution. In the case of multiple personality structure, “multiple protagonists are the same person, or different versions of the same person” (Berg). Multiple personality structure can also be considered a variant of multiple POV or branching structure.

  • Film Examples: The Fountain, Sliding Doors, Identity, Fight Club.
  • Book Examples: The Powerbook (Winterson), Habibi (Thompson), American Born Chinese (Yang), Revolution (Donnelly).

Cumulative

CUMULATIVE STRUCTURE

This structure is most often used in picture books and songs. It builds a story through a “repetitive pattern or text structure: each page repeats the text from the previous page, adding a new line/plot element. As the details pile up, the tale builds to a climax” (Carver).

  • Book Examples: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Mills), This is the House that Jack Built (Mother Goose).

Do you know of any other alternative story structures? I’d love to hear all about them!

Up next: Designing principals and how to make decisions on what the best plot type and story structure is best for your project!

Works Cited:
Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
Carver, Renee. “Cumulative Tales Primary Lesson Plan.” Primary School. 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Aug 2012.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Story- teller. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 2007.

Alternative Structures (Part 1)

StructureI’ve spent a lot of time in this organic architecture series talking about plot plot plot plot. (If you’ve missed those post please check out:  arch plotalternative plots, and plot genres). But it’s time to switch gears and think about organization, rhythm, and energy.

That’s right let’s talk structure! (Which, if you don’t remember I’m obsessed with. Yes, I said obsessed).

Traditionally, we’re used to thinking about structure as a mountain or triangle with an escalating tension.  But I want to break out of the triangle/mountain box and think about structure in a new way. The following ideas can be applied to a mountain structure (if you want), or they can provide a whole new guideline for rhythm and tension!

Alternative structures all be discussing include:

  • Non-linear structure
  • Episodic structure with an arc
  • Wheel structure
  • Meandering structure
  • Branching structure
  • Spiral structure
  • Multiple point-of-view structure
  • Parallel structure
  • Cumulative structure

Let’s dig right in!

Non Linear Structure

NON-LINEAR STRUCTURE

(Also known as: Backwards Structure, Scrambled Sequence Structure)

Non-linear structure tells events out of linear order for dramatic impact. The juxtaposition of out-of-order scenes and sequences can help the reader to create plot connections, expand character depth, or elaborate on theme. Backwards structures draw attention to causal connections, like forward-moving linear structures, but become causal mysteries, where the narrative fuel is the search for the first cause of known effects (Berg). Scrambled-sequence structures don’t “do away with the cause-and-effect chain, [they] merely suspend it for a time, eventually to be ordered by the competent spectator” (Berg). Additionally, a story with a flashback can be considered part of a non-linear structure. However, some define flashbacks as a character thinking back on an event, and thus exist within a traditional linear-story timeline.

  • Film Examples: Memento, Pulp Fiction, The Limey, Out of Sight, Reservoir Dogs.
  • Book Examples: Betrayal (Pinter), Habibi (Thompson), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Niffenegger), Beneath a Meth Moon (Woodson).

Episodic Structure

EPISODIC STRUCTURE WITH AN ARC

(Also known as: Television Structure, Book Series Structure)

“Episodic structure is a series of chapters or stories linked together by the same character place or theme, but also held apart by their own goals, plots, or purpose” (Schmidt). A larger multiple book or episode character-arc or plot-goal often ties together a series, as done in television and comic books.

  • Film Examples: Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, Friends, Dr. Who, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, etc.
  • Singular Book Examples: The Graveyard Book (Gaiman), The New York Singles Mormon Halloween Dance (Baker), The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Angleberger).
  • Series Book Examples: The Adventures of Tintin (Herge), Sin City (Miller), Knuffle Bunny (Willems), Hunger Games (Collins).

Wheel Structure Image

WHEEL STRUCTURE 

(Also known as: The Short Story Cycle, Hub and Spoke Structure)

In wheel structure, scenes, stories, vignettes, and poems, all revolve around a thematic center where the “hub [is] a compelling emotional event, and the narration refer[s] to this event like the spokes.” (Campbell). Additionally, “the rim of the wheel represents recurrent elements in a cycle … [and] as these elements repeat themselves, turn in on themselves, and recur, the whole wheel moves forward” (Kalmar). Many novels in verse or vignettes use this structure.

  • Film Examples: Waking Life, Loss of Sexual Innocence, Chungking Express, The Tree of Life.
  • Book Examples: The chapter structure of Keesha’s House (Frost), Einstein’s Dreams (Lightman), The House on Mango Street (Cisneros), Tales from Outer Suburbia (Tan).

Meandering Structure

MEANDERING STRUCTURE

(Also known as: River Structure, Winding Path Structure)

Meandering structure is a “story that follows a winding path without apparent direction” (Truby). The hero may or may not have a desire. If the hero has a desire it is not intense, and “he covers a great deal of territory in a haphazard way; and he encounters a number of characters from different levels of society” (Truby).

  • Film Examples: Forrest Gump.
  • Book Examples: Alice in Wonderland (Carroll), Huck Finn (Twain), Don Quixote (Cervantes).

In my next post we’ll take a look at:

  • Branching structure
  • Spiral structure
  • Multiple point-of-view structure
  • Parallel structure
  • Cumulative structure
Works Cited:
Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Tax-onomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
Campbell, Patty. “The Sand in the Oyster: Vetting the Verse Novel.” The Horn Book Magazine. Sept.-Oct.2004: 611-616.
Kalmar, Daphne. “The Short Story Cycle: A Sculptural Aesthetic.” Critical Thesis, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Story Structure Architect. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2005.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Story- teller. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 2007.

Classical Design: Breaking it Down with Toy Story

Last week I started off my Organic Architecture series by outlining the eleven major story-beats of  classical design. Before I jump into alternative structures and plots I want to make sure we understand arch plot as more than just a template for story. I want to show how this story-frame can be used, and used well.

Today I’m going to breakdown the major beats of classical design using Pixar’s film Toy Story. This film is an excellent example of how arch plot can create a satisfying story experience that moves like a well-oiled machine and every piece has a purpose.  Let’s take a look at how the eleven steps outlined in my previous post are put into practice.

ACT ONE:

1) Ordinary World

In the first images of Toy Story we’re introduced to Andy and his favorite toy Sheriff Woody (our protagonist). In the first minutes we establish Woody’s ordinary world, consisting of Andy’s room. At minute four, we get the story hook: the toys come to life. At this point we’re introduced to the major players: Mr. Potato Head, Slinky-dog, Bo-Peep, etc. Relationships are hinted at and we see that Woody is the leader of this clan. The complexity of this world deepens when the first obstacle is introduced, allowing us to see how Woody normally functions in the ordinary world. The obstacle is Andy’s birthday party and a covert toy-style mission to see if there are any new, bigger and brighter, toys to be worried about. This action reveals the emotional core of the film: every toy’s deepest fear is that they will be replaced and Andy will no longer love them. In the first twelve minutes the film has set up the world, how it works, and what’s at stake.

Ordinary World

2) The Call to Action

At minute fourteen, Buzz Lightyear shows up on screen. Something new has arrived to disrupt the ordinary world. This is what the hero’s journey calls the call to adventure. In Toy Story the call isn’t an invitation to a quest, but it is a catalyst that disrupts Woody’s status quo. Woody tells himself that this new toy isn’t going to change anything and we enter…

Call to Action

3) The Refusal of the Call

This is the debate section where Woody tries to keep his authority, but is slowly usurped by Buzz.

Refusal of Call

4) Crossing the First Threshold

Woody’s refusal culminates when his flaws of pride and jealousy cause him to pick a fight with Buzz.  Both toys fall out of the car and Andy’s family drives away,  leaving Woody and Buzz on the pavement. The two have now become LOST TOYS! This is the moment when Woody and Buzz cross the first threshold and move us into act two. This is the point of no return. Woody and Buzz are no longer in the ordinary world but the special world, which will force them to grow. The energy of the story changes here because the two have a new desire: to get home.

First Threshold

ACT TWO:

5) Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The next seventeen minutes of the film constitutes the fun and games section where our heroes are presented with tests, allies, and enemies. When I went to film school we called this the “trailer section.” It’s where all the gags and jokes used in a film trailer come from. This is the section of the story that fulfills the promise of your premise. Toy Story’s premise is: how do two rival toys find their way home when lost in the real world? Well, they hitch a ride to pizza planet. They get chosen by The Claw and taken home by the evil neighbor Sid. They defend themselves against cannibal toys. Each obstacle gets harder and harder. And it leads us to…

Tests and Allies

6) The Mid-Point

In the hero’s journey there isn’t actually a mid-point, but in screenwriting it has become very important story beat. It’s where the energy of the film swings up, or swings down. In Toy Story it swings down. Buzz comes upon a TV commercial selling Buzz Lightyear action figures and realizes he is not the Buzz Lightyear, but actually a TOY!

Mid point

7) Approaching the In-Most Cave

The mid-point also affects Woody and propels the story into the next section. Woody continues to put out fires while Buzz has his existential crisis. This is known as approaching the in-most cave or continued obstacles and intensification.

Approaching Cave

8) The In-Most Cave

At minute 57,  Woody hits rock bottom and reaches the in-most cave or crisis of the story. Both Woody and Buzz are trapped, Woody’s friends have abandoned him, and he can now see that his pride has led him astray.

Cave Crisis

ACT THREE:

9) The Final Push

Just after the crisis usually comes a change in fate. Sid takes Buzz into the backyard to blow him up and Woody realizes he must save the only friend he has left. This propels us into act three and the final push where Woody devises a rescue plan.

Final Push

10) Seizes the Sword

Woody enacts his plan in the climax and seizes the sword by saving Buzz’s life!

Climax

11) The Return Home

But the return home is still wrought with tension as Woody and Buzz chase down the moving van. Some consider this a second final climax (think horror films where monsters you thought were dead jump out at the last minute). Woody grows by putting his pride aside and works together with Buzz to reunite with Andy. As the film closes Buzz and Woody have returned to the new ordinary world with the wisdom and friendship of their adventure.

Return Home

This is classic design used well! It creates an emotionally engaging and well-paced story. If you like this story design I highly suggest reading Sheryl Scarborough’s guest post that continues this discussion in regards to three-act structure.

However, despite popular belief, classic design is not the only way to tell a story. My next post will outline the hidden agenda of arch plot and why we need more storytelling options!

What is Arch Plot and Classic Design?

As an introduction to my series on Organic Architecture, I thought I’d start out with the ol’ granddaddy of plot structures: Arch Plot. You probably already know all about this plot structure, but to make sure we’re all on the same page, I wanted to do a quick overview.

The Hero's JourneyArch plot has lots of names. In your time as a writer, you’ve probably run into arch plot under one of these titles:

  • Classic plot
  • The hero’s journey
  • Goal-oriented plot
  • Aristotelian story shape
  • Energeia plot
  • Three-act structure
  • Hollywood screenwriting structure
  • The Universal Story

Arch plot is a goal-oriented plot where, “for better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extra-personal). He may or may not achieve it” (McKee, 196).  Film examples of arch plot include: Toy Story, The Godfather, Back to the Future, Star Wars, Etc. (Most American Hollywood films use arch plot).  Book examples of arch plot include: Harry Potter (Rowling), Hunger Games (Collins), Speak (Anderson), Pride & Prejudice (Austen), Hamlet (Shakespeare), The Odyssey (Homer),  etc.

A story that uses classic design has eleven basic story sections. Depending on which books you read these story beats all have different titles. I’ve culled the information below from a variety of different sources, each of whom give arch plot design their own title (i.e. classic plot, the hero’s journey, etc.), but at its core they’re all talking about the same design. For the major sequences and beats, the header titles use Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey terminology, and under that you’ll see a list of the same beat termed differently by others. Thus, what Campbell calls the Call to Action, McKee calls the Inciting Incident, and Blake Snyder calls The Catalyst.

THE ELEVEN STORY BEATS OF ARCH PLOT:

Arch Plot Structure by Ingrid Sundberg

ACT ONE

The Ordinary World: The hero’s life is established in his ordinary world.

This story beat is also known as:

  • The Known
  • The Set-Up
  • The Status Quo
  • Limited Awareness

Call to Adventure: Something changes in the hero’s life to cause him to take action.

This story beat is also known as:

  • TheInciting Incident
  • The Call to Action
  • The Catalyst

Refusal of the Call: The hero refuses to take action hoping his life with go back to normal. Which it will not.

Also known as:

  • Threshold Guardians
  • Defining Moment
  • Separation
  • Reluctance
  • New Situation
  • The Debate
  • Meeting Mentor

Crossing the First Threshold: The hero is pushed to a point of no return where he must answer the call and begin his journey.

Also known as:

  • Energetic Marker 1: End of the Beginning
  • The Point of No Return
  • Committing to the Goal
  • Act One Climax
  • Plot Point One
  • Break into Two
  • Turning Point One
  • The Threshold
  • Awakening

ACT TWO

Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The journey through the special world is full of tests and obstacles that challenge the hero emotionally and/or physically.

Also known as:

  • The Fun and Games
  • Resistance and Struggle
  • Rising Action and Obstacles
  • Belly of the Whale
  • Push to Breaking Point
  • The Special World
  • Road of Trials

Mid-Point: The energy of the story shifts dramatically. New information is discovered (for positive or negative) that commits the hero to his journey.

Also known as:

  • Energetic Marker 2: Halfway Point
  • Mid-Act Climax
  • Moment of Grace or the Mind-Fuck Moment
  • Moment of Enlightenment
  • Commitment to the Journey
  • Progress

Approaching Inmost Cave: The hero gets closer to reaching his goal and must prepare for the upcoming battle (emotional or physical).

Also known as:

  • Challenges and Temptations
  • Grace and Fall
  • Resistance and Struggle
  • Complications and Higher Stakes
  • The Bad Guys Close In
  • Intensification
  • Preparation
  • Rising Action
  • Obstacles

Inmost Cave: The hero hits rock bottom. He fails miserably and must come to face his deepest fear. This causes self-revelation.

Also known as:

  • Energetic Marker 3: Crisis
  • Dark Night of the Soul
  • Abyss and Revelation
  • Plot Point Two
  • Act Two Climax
  • The Major Assault
  • Death of the Ego
  • Death Experience
  • Rock Bottom
  • The Ordeal
  • The Crisis
  • Big Change
  • Epiphany

ACT THREE

Final Push: The hero makes a new plan to achieve his goal.

Also known as:

  • The Descent
  • The Sprint

Seizing the Sword: The hero faces his foe in a final climactic battle. The information learned during the crisis is essential to beating this foe.

Also known as:

  • Energetic Marker 4: Climax
  • The Climax
  • Seizing the Prize
  • Transformation
  • Finale
  • Break Into Three
  • The Final Incident

Return with the Elixir: The hero returns home with the fruits of his adventure. He begins his life as a changed person, now living in the “new ordinary world”.

Also known as:

  • Transformation and Return
  • Rapidly Falling Action
  • The Road Back
  • Denouement
  • New Life
  • Resolution
  • Aftermath
  • A New Status Quo
  • Return to the New Ordinary World

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.” – Gary Kurtz (Film Producer)

Bibliography:
Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. New York: Adams Media, 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Second Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Chapman, Harvey. “Not Your Typical Plot Diagram.” Novel Writing Help. 2008-2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.
Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Revised ed. New York: Delta, 2005.
Gulino, Paul. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Hauge, Michael. Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: Collins Reference, 2001.
Marks, Dara. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Ojai: Three Mountain Press, 2007.
McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
McManus, Barbara F. Tools for Analyzing Prose Fiction. College of New Rochelle, Oct. 1998. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.
Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
TV Tropes. Three Act Structure. TV Tropes Foundation, 26 Dec. 2011. Web. 11. Sept. 2012.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd Edition. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
Williams, Stanley D. The Moral Premise. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2006.

Story Structure Diagrams

Yes, it’s true, I’ve had story structure on the brain. I’ve also recently joined pinterest (of which I immediately became addicted). But there’s a happy side effect of these two obsessions… this post! I love visual representations of novels and narrative structure, and pinterest gave me a place to collect all these fascinating, beautiful, funny, and brilliant story diagrams.

Feast your eyes!

Three Act Plot Structure:

 

Four Act Structure:

 

Freytag’s Pyramid:

 

Swooping Character Arcs:

 

The Hero’s Journey:

 

Branching Structure:

 

And Just For Fun:

Check out more charts on my Pinterest Page!

Happy structure dreams everyone.

TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT: Part 7 – Defining Plot Structure

Be sure to read the first six parts of this essay:

Defining Plot Structure:

If story structure is a form of organization for a story that may or may not have a plot, what is plot structure? It’s important to note that plot structure is a type of story structure, but the two terms are not interchangeable. The most common story shape for plot structure is the Fichtean Curve (see figure 4). Talked about at length in Gardner’s book The Art of Fiction, this plot structure reflects the goal-oriented plot. In essence, the character has a goal and follows a series of three or more obstacles of increasing intensity in order to achieve that goal. The protagonist reaches an ultimate conflict called the climax and then proceeds to a resolution. This common story shape is often called the Aristotelian Story Shape. However, this may be a falsehood. Aristotle only mentioned that stories should have beginnings, middles, and ends (hence the three act structure). Aristotle had very little to say about plot structure according to author M.T. Anderson:

Structurally in terms of abstract story shape, Aristotle doesn’t really give us much of a pointer. He says ‘for every tragedy there is a complication and a denouement. By complication I mean everything from the beginning, as far as the part that immediately precedes the transformation to prosperity or affliction. And by denouement, I mean the start of the transformation to the end.’ So, it is really more of a two part thing, and he gives you no real sense of the proportion those two things should be in. It’s not actually tremendously useful.

Thus the story shape (the Fichtean curve) came later as others developed new theories of plot structure.

Another common shape is Freytag’s Pyramid, (also called Freytag’s Triangle) which many illustrate with close similarity to the Fichtean curve (see figure 5A). However, this is a distortion, and Freytag’s pyramid is actually symmetrical in its triangular form (see figure 5B), and reflects a Germanic idea of story shape (Anderson). Despite the name, this common plot-structure includes the elements of: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and a Denouncement. It’s also very popular as Klien points out:

You can see this structure everywhere. It’s Aristotle’s Greek tragedies. It’s all six Jane Austen novels. It’s in all six Harry Potters. It’s mystery novels, romance novels, most every pop song ever written, U2, Stevie Wonder. And the reason for that is, again, catharsis: all the emotion building up through your interest in the characters and their actions, exploding at the climax, leaving you drained but renewed. (Klein, 10)

The emphasis on increasing tension and emotional involvement is perhaps why this is the most popular plot structure around, but it’s not the only option. Author, An Na comments that the possibilities for plot and story structure “are about as plentiful as ways to cook food.” Taking a look at figure 6, which shows a plethora of alternative plot structures, one will begin to see she is indeed quite right.

Alternative plot structures can be applied to both novels and stories, but they may become more popular as interactive storytelling is developed using video games, internet, and digital interfaces.

Up Next: Part 8 – Defining Narrative Structure and Conclusion

** Full Bibliography will be provided at end of blog-post series.