Story Structure - a different approach
Lately, I was asked where the name of my blog here on the site (catharsis) stems from.
While explaining, realized that what I had been taught at school and had assumed to be a common version is apparently rather rare. But I think this ‘different approach’ is quite useful for anyone working with stories. And after seeing the other blog posts here dealing with writing basics, I thought it might be an interesting essay, too, if only as a starting point for a discussion about what constitutes a technically good story.
Probably everyone knows the usual ‘beginning, middle, end’ formula for a story.
But what about stories that start with the end, like the movie Titanic? Are there stories that work with an ‘end, beginning, middle, end, end’ structure? I personally always found it hard to pin this logic on any given story.
The version I have been taught at school (and probably have changed slightly over the years), takes another point of view for structuring a story. Instead of looking at the story itself, it looks at the audience, or more specifically, at what the audience needs to perceive a story as complete and ‘good’.
The story structure I have been taught assumes that every story needs the following parts:
In short, the parts are explained by the function they serve for the relationship between the audience and the hero of the story.
In Sympathy, the audience gets to know the hero and to feel sympathetic with him.
In Crisis, the audience learns of the hero’s predicament that is at the core of this story, of the forces that work against him and his struggle to resolve it.
In Catharsis, the audience watches the hero resolve the crisis.
In Silence, the audience gets time to learn of the results of Catharsis and close the story in their minds before being allowed back into ‘real life’.
Most useful for me, though, is the reverse of these definitions to check if my story has a proper ‘hero’, and isn’t just a bunch of events happening.
Have a look:
The hero of the story is the person (couple, group, item, whatever) that
- the audience get to know in Sympathy
- has a problem in Crisis
- solves the problem in Catharsis
- gathers the fruit of his labor and says good bye in Silence
So if the main character of the story doesn’t check those boxes in the given order, I assume that there’s still something off with my story. At least, that is the case until I can pinpoint why I take another approach specifically in this case.
What do you think?
Is this a story structure theory that works for you?
Do you know stories that do not fit into this pattern and yet work perfectly fine?
Any additions, challenges and/or questions?