Structure Matters

The question of whether and how much story structure matters appears to be one that can elicit rather a lot of debate in some quarters. My increasingly strong opinion is that structure matters a great deal for a number of reasons, three of which are audience expectations, professional craftsmanship, and ease of construction. 

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Three Act Structure

The three act story structure has been described, and analysed, and argued about since Aristotle, who posited that a whole story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Although this might seem obvious to the point of absurdity, the very longevity of the idea should keep good writers from dismissing it out of hand. 

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Four Act Structure

The four acts in this structure have acquired various names from different analysts, but in this discussion I'll refer to them as the Set-up, Response, Attack, and Resolution. 

This structure is essentially the same as a three act structure in which the second act, which is lengthy and sometimes difficult to handle all in one chunk, has been broken into two more manageable parts. This produces four acts of roughly equal length. 

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Save The Cat

Another popular model for structuring stories comes from Blake Snyder's popular book on screenwriting, Save the Cat. Of course, Blake Snyder goes into much more detail and has a lot of other good thoughts to share, so if this model appeals to you, definitely read his book.

 

In this book, Snyder presents a story structure model with 15 "beats", as follows: 

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The Hero's Journey

The next story model I'd like to briefly discuss is called The Hero's Journey. It's based on the work of scholar Joseph Campbell who, in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, examined the mythic stories of the past and identified certain patterns that kept surfacing over and over. Christopher Vogler translates Campbell's theories into practical application for writers in his book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

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The Virgin's Promise

The Virgin's Promise story structure was introduced by Kim Hudson, and you can read more about it in her book,  The Virgin's Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening

This story structure was developed somewhat in reaction to the Hero's Journey structure that I described in my previous post, and is presented by Hudson as a "feminine" story structure, though she stresses that the "virgin" in the tale can be either male or female, just as the "hero" in the Hero's Journey can be of either sex. 

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Story Trumps Structure

In an examination of story structure, I could hardly leave out Steven James's excellent book, Story Trumps Structure,  which I greatly enjoyed and strongly recommendI will admit, though, that I put off reading it for a while because I thought I ought to gain a solid understanding of what story structure was before I read Mr. James's argument as to why I shouldn't worry about it.  If you want to understand a counter argument, it really helps to have a good grasp of the argument. 

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