Blog Post

The Structure Of A Great Story

Feb 23rd, 2016

Writer Fiona Faith Ross posts a collection of interviews with screenwriters on story structure, plotting, and free-form writing. Many call for greater elaboration:

There are a million and more ways to construct your story. It’s generally agreed that key elements such as the turning points and mid point are indispensible. On the other hand, what also came out in our discussion is there’s no fixed formula or template for “a good story”, but somehow we know what it is when we see it.

The reason "we know what it is when we see it" is because stories reflect the way our own minds solve problems. The closer a story adheres to that internal process, the more we think it a "good story". The Dramatica storyform is a holistic blueprint of the mind's problem-solving process.

“The two turning points are crucial for linking the beginning, middle and end together.”

No they're not. The two turning points and the midpoint are crucial in that they signify to the Audience the exhaustion of one thematic context and the beginning of a new. Beginning, middle, and end bear no significance on the appreciation of a story because one cannot concretely define the beginning versus the middle versus the end; everyone will have their own individual interpretation. Instead, it is best to think of the four acts as contexts for exploring the various ways to solve a problem. Once you reach that fourth context you will have played out all the various permutations of problem-solving.

Plot A is the main story, the action.

Plot B is the relationship story, also called the emotional heart.

Plot C is the character arc, or how the character changes by the end of the story.

Well, they're missing one "Plot". The first part is right: Plot A is the main story, or what Dramatica refers to as the Objective Story Throughline. The second part is good too: Plot B is the relationship story, or what Dramatica refers to as the Relationship Story Throughline. And the last part is pretty good too: Plot C is the character arc or what Dramatica refers to as the Main Character Throughline.

I say pretty good, because how that character "changes by the end of the story" is not specified. In Dramatica you have two huge story points that describe this change: the Main Character Resolve and the Main Character Growth. The first measures the end of the story with the beginning and asks Authors to decide whether or not the Main Character changes how they solve problems or remains steadfast in their approach. The second describes how they grow or "arc" in between those two points.

But what is really missing here is Plot D, or the Influence Character Throughline. Change doesn't happen in a vacuum. The Main Character needs an external stimulus--usually in the form of someone very similar to themselves yet distinctly different in another way--in order to move out of their comfort zone.

It isn't surprising that this fourth and final Throughline is left out of this discussion. Because the Relationship Story Throughline covers the relationship between the Main and Influence Character, many tend to blend or fold the IC Throughline into it. But just as the Main Character has his or her issues separate from the relationship, the Influence Character too has their own unique impact on the world around them.

“Great formulaic writers deserve the same accolades as great writers who tweak the molds. The most important thing an artist can do is to be true to themselves and their beliefs, and true to their story.”

This is great; though I would caution against using "formulaic" to describe a category of Author who wants their story to actually mean something in the end. The form simply keeps the purpose consistent.

The article ends with a list of must-read screenwriting books. The fact that Chris Huntley and Melanie Anne Phillips' Dramatica: A Theory of Story is left off the list is rather disappointing. A greater understanding of this theory would go a long way towards rectifying this argument between structure vs. non-structure.

Maybe someday.