Basic Story Structure

Last week I discussed the popular narrative structure known as the Hero’s Journey in a post here. Today will be a short examination of the most basic of story structures; the “story triangle” or the more common name the exposition-climax-resolution three act structure. Here it is:

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Look at it. You remember it. Your high school, maybe middle school, English teacher talking about it one day and then you just began to see it everywhere. Your favorite book, television show, even some of your favorite songs somehow seemed to have this simple structure within it.

Well, you are partially right, This narrative structure, and its few variations, tends to be in most popular media. It is even found within the basic format of the Hero’s journey. While there have been various explanations and theories as to why this form is so popular and used, most of them needlessly academic and verbose, I prefer explanations to be a bit simpler and more understandable, if possible.

I think that this narrative structure is popular because it copies the basic cycles that happen in nature and thus ones we are all somewhat familiar with. Think of a plant. First, it has to be dropped/planted in soil, draw nutrients, and grow roots (essentially set up the beginning or exposition of a story). Second, it will begin to show some growth and begin to draw energy from multiples sources as well as try to continue to grow and survive the environment it is in (conflict). Eventually, it will grow to its desired state where it is no longer an easy target to its surrounding and begin to bear fruit/seed (climax). Finally, it will somehow spread its seeds and the process will begin all over (resolution). Of course, it can also serve a myriad of other purposes or endings, but a conclusion to that particular seed still takes place.

This narrative cycle can also be attributed to other natural cycles. I believe this is why we developed this form when we first began telling each other stories. I am sure I could find anthropological, sociological, rhetoric, and other academic data to support and disprove my thought, but it is just a working theory so whatever.

While this structure has been used for some time, like the Hero’s Journey, it should not be used as a “paint by numbers” method. Instead, this structure is best used as a tool to measure your own creation against. Does your story seem to have this various ebbs and flows? Rises and drops? Does it contain these elements in some part? More importantly, does your story have a structure a reader can follow?

Obviously, there have been a few great authors who have been able to set aside structure and do incredible things, but even these extraordinary individuals still had an understanding of basic writing and story telling. So, if you believe yourself capable of morphing and modifying your narrative in such a way, I highly suggest first figuring out why you want to do that and if it really fits your story. Or you know do whatever the hell you want, what do I know…

The Sentry Gathers…

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