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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Story Structure

When we are born into the world we are helpless and weak... we need others to look after us, to provide nurturing which allows us to flourish and grow into adults. At first, these needs are very basic and yet profound... food, comfort, warmth, love. Later as we mature into independent beings capable of going out into the world on our own we form desires, we encounter obstacles and opponents, we make plans and fight battles, and we learn about the world through revelations, eventually coming to a new kind of equilibrium, a better life.

A story comes into being in much the same fashion. It begins with a weakness and a need... and this need is both moral and psychological. Something is missing from the main character's experience... something basic and yet profound... something they must have in order to lead a better life. This is the beginning of the desire that drives the character arc. The need that is missing from the character's life and the desire they feel to obtain it are two very different functions of a story. The need is always below the surface... it is the key to the story, while the desire is what the story is about.

The opponent (or opponents) the main character, or hero, encounters along the story line desire the same goal... this is the deepest most important level of conflict within the story... it is only by competing for the same goal that the hero and opponent come into contact again and again throughout the story. The opponent in this regard isn't an evil person... a true opponent wants to prevent the hero from achieving their goal while at the same time striving for that goal.

When an opponent appears, a plan is necessary to achieve action in the story. The plan is linked to both the desire of the hero as well as the desire of the opponent. The plan may be vague or complex. Along the way, in the middle of the story, the hero and the opponent confront one another as each vies for the goal. The battle is the final conflict which determines who achieves the goal... it may be a conflict of violence or a battle of words.

Engaging in battle is painful, leading to the hero's revelation... the more intense the battle, the deeper the revelation, and like need, revelation comes in both a moral form and a psychological form. A moral revelation is plain to everyone while the psychological revelation is clear only to the hero. The psychological revelation allows the hero to see themselves as they really are... it obliterates the mask behind which they have hidden and reveals important truths heretofore obscured by the lies in which they had come to believe.

At the end of the story, things have returned to normal and yet a fundamental change has occurred in the hero's experience. If this is a positive change the hero evolves into a better person. Conversely, if it is a negative change, or if the hero is incapable of learning from it, the hero devolves or perhaps is even destroyed by the revelation.

The seven structural steps are:

1. Need
2. Desire
3. Opponent
4. Plan
5. Battle
6. Revelation
7. Equilibrium

Notice too that not only can these steps be used in the story as a whole, but they can also be incorporated into each chapter... a story each within the story leading to the final revelation.

Does this help in your writing? Can you see these steps in other stories?

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