STORY STRUCTURE BASICS
3000 years ago, Aristotle wrote his first book on the structure of drama in “The Poetics”. Since then not much has changed. In the book, Aristotle defines story as having a beginning, middle and ending, Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3. It seems obvious at first but once you see that each of these sections has a primary purpose you will understand the framework is natural and fundamental to the way humans tell stories.
“Aristotle’s story structure works, and in fact it is the only structure that has ever worked, because it is a mirror of our own views on the universe.”
— Lisa Doan
At its most basic level, a story is a transformation discovered, either the transformation of a situation or a character. Without a crisis event that initiates this transformation and a change, you have no story. For example, In the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, Act 1 or the beginning, we are introduced to Al Gore who is on a mission to reverse climate change, but it is almost impossible task. How can he accomplish it?
“The kind of narrative that I subscribe to trusts in the possibility that people can change.”
GUIDELINES, NOT RULES
Commercials, short films, documentaries, novels and feature films can all take advantage of a story framework to maximize the impact of the story, make it more compelling and ultimately create a lasting impression on the audience.
The frameworks in this guide are all compatible and are just different ways of looking at the same thing – story is in fact universal and once you get past the foundation of storytelling, the varying models are just slight variations. Remember that these models are only guidelines and not rules that must be followed at all costs, in fact, breaking these rules once you have a good grasp of the fundamentals can serve as a source of originality and surprise your audience.
“Avoid clichés of structure, character, and dialogue. Every story has its own structure, its own life, its own way of unfolding. Let your story and its characters use you, the writer, to express itself and themselves. ”