Friday, February 11, 2011

Plot Talk - Part 4: "Story Trumps Structure"

Part 4: "Story Trumps Structure"

I recently read an article in Writer's Digest Magazine, the February 2011 edition, called Story Trumps Stucture by Steven James. I have heard other writers talking about making sure they have their three acts over and over everywhere I look. So, this article got me thinking about those 3 acts and what the differences were with James' theory, coupled with that of McKee's and Snyder's structure ideas.

Here's what I found.

3 Acts: 

1) Beginning - This is where you introduce your characters, the setting, and the conflict. This section propels the rest of the story.
2) Middle - You unleash a series of obstacles and/or conflicts that will ultimately bring about the climax.
3) End - In this section you bring about the actual climax and the following resolution.

This seems easy enough, much easier than Robert McKee's and Blake Snyder's structure
guidelines. And, actually, after learning what McKee and Snyder believe, this 3 Act structure seems a little too simple. At least it does to me.

Story Trumps Structure: 

1) Orientation - This is similar to Act 1 - You introduce your characters and the setting. You give the reader a glimpse what the protagonists normal life is like, what he/she has to lose/gain. 
2) Crisis - This is where you turn your protagonists life upside down. Show the reader what he/she has to avoid/obtain to right his/her life again.
3) Escalation - I liken this to McKee's idea of acts and gaps (you'll have to read the book to understand - too much for me to explain here). It's also like Act 2 - The protagonist goes through a series of actions trying to fix his/her situation. Of course with no luck.
4) Discovery - This is the realization point where the protagonist learns something and decides to do what needs to be done.
5) Change - This is like the climax - The protagonist's life is forever changed and he/she has learned a lesson and you can hint to something to come if there will be another book. 

James complicates it a little more than the 3 Act structure, but it's still not as complicated as McKee and Snyder make it.

I like James' structure over the 3 Acts, but I still think that McKee and Snyder are also onto something. I think that as a writer my best bet will be to take a little from all four plot structures to create the best story I can.

What do you think?

Click the links below to see the other three related posts.
Part 1: The Basics - I will look at the basic principle of plots.
Part 2: Robert McKee's plot structure in Story
Part 3: Blake Snyder's beat sheet plot structure in Save the Cat!
Part 4: Steven James' Story Trumps Structure article from Writer's Digest Magazine February 2011



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