Michille: Narrative Structure

IMG_0039I’m a student of narrative fiction structure. I generally read any story with that in the back of my mind. 3-act, 4-act, prologue, etc. I’m reading an old Nora Roberts story – Rivers End. It’s separated into 3 ‘books’ plus a prologue. Olivia, Noah, The Monster. This conforms to Aristotle’s three-act structure in one sense (literally), but in another, it still conforms to the contemporary 5-act structure which is Freytag’s pyramid. Freytag’s five acts consist of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. I believe most modern fiction follows this structure. Continue reading

Michille: Narrative Structure

Save the CatMy son and a friend have been talking about writing a movie. They are 17. So they had no idea where to start so I gave my son my Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. I loosely use it myself, but it is structured in three acts and is focused on movies and I prefer five acts and novels. Plus, I use Joseph Campbell’s 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey as my overall structure (that is also three acts, but I break my story up by the major turning points). Discussing this with my son brought back the research on structure I did for my master’s thesis.

For that, I looked at dramatic structure through time. One of the required courses was Ancient World. Many of the texts we read followed a three-act structure similar to what Aristotle defined in approximately 335 BCE as having a beginning, middle, and end (or protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe) regardless of whether it was tragedy or comedy, epic or play. The three-act structure prevailed until Horace advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica in approximately 19 BCE. Continue reading

Michaeline: Hocus Pocus

Magician with rabbit, roses, a hat full of carnations, cards, no we are not done yet, doves, a goldfish and a magic case. Whew!

Zan Zig, magician, has a lot of flash and creativity and color going on, but lacks something in the structure departure. Does it matter? It’s still beautiful. And yet . . . . (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a magic wand and could *poof* our story into existence – a perfect story without faults and perfectly entertaining?

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, judging from the Halloween hit, Hocus Pocus, you don’t need perfect to create an enduring seasonal hit. There is no doubt that a lot of hard work went into this Disney movie, but if you need an example of a deeply flawed story to learn from, here you go.

The biggest problem with the story is that the movie takes three feisty, funny women (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker), and immediately turns them into child murderers. And the flip side of the problem is that they are the best damn things in the movie. Every time I want to root for them, I catch myself and say, “Oh, yeah. Complete and utter evil.”

We’ve talked before about how a villain should be understandable, and even likable. Jenny Crusie has talked about how a villain should also be smarter and better than the protagonist. If the villain isn’t any good, the victory is hollow.

But there is such a thing as going to extremes. If you are going to have witty and interesting villains (and you really should!), Continue reading

Michaeline: Structure and Conflict in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Dissecting a story can reveal strange and wonderful things!

Dissecting a story can reveal strange and wonderful things!

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is one of the touchstones of American culture, and there are references scattered throughout literature and the pop scene to the passive-aggressive dreamer who escapes into his own world as often as he can.

I see the structure of the story as something like this: the five episodes of daydreaming take their details and themes from the underlying reality of Walter Mitty’s daily life. The underlying reality is a thread, and the daydreams are bubbles that rise out of that thread. The conflict in the daydreaming is manufactured, of course, but takes shape from real conflict in his life – conflicts many of us face, and are a little boring, to tell the truth. The daydream episodes raise the conflict into High Drama.

The basic thread of Mitty’s real life is packed with everyday conflicts. Continue reading