Story Structure for Professional Writers

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A Concept of Story You Should Know

  • Tale

    Nothing wrong with a tale. Especially if you don't care about Audience members remembering your tale 48 hours later or you don't mind them not recommending your work to anyone else. Tales are great in the moment, but are soon forgotten as they don't add up to anything more than what they are. A Complete Story offers so much more than a Tale, and Audiences nowadays are wise to them.

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4 days ago

To celebrate this week's final publication of the official analysis of Sideways, I thought we could take a look at the Throughlines of this Academy Award winning screenplay.

The Throughlines of *Sideways*

A failed writer living a pitiful existence in San Diego California, Main Character Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) struggles with depression from a two-year old divorce. His troublesome Fixed Attitude not only makes it impossible for him to move on emotionally, but also perturbes those he comes into contact with.

The most perturbed is his friend Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church). A compulsive womanizer stuck in an imminent marriage, Influence Character Jack tries desparately to help Miles break free as the lech struggles with his own disparate Situation.

The wine trip before the wedding stirs up conflict with heated debates over various Manners of Thinking. Manipulating and womanizing locals and pretending like everything is OK back home brings everyone together in the Overall Story Throughline. Miles and Jack aren't the only ones suffering through this: Jack's future wife, Maya, Cammi, and even Miles' ex-wife Vicki struggle to maintain their composure through this psychological romp up the countryside.

The friendship between Jack and Miles takes up the rest of the narrative. The typical bachelor-party antics and Activities the two suffer through defines the Relationship Story Throughline. Where the Overall Story focuses on the inner psychology of people coming into conflict over different ways of thinking, the Relationship Story centers on the very real pain and physical suffering involved in cheating and cavorting through the countryside.

Including being chased out of a house by naked middle-aged man.

Be sure to check out this week's article Predicting Who Will Listen to Your Story as Sideways features prominently in it.

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6 days ago

Predicting Who Will Listen to Your Storyform

After follow-up, we dive into an analysis of Hell or High Water, the new Western from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan. Following that we take a look at the Dramatica story point known as Audience Reach. By combining the Main Character's Problem-Solving Style with the Story Limit, writers can accurately predict who will be sitting in the audience.

Links and Show Notes

And don't forget...

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace

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1 week ago

Strange to experience a Meryl Streep performance where she features prominently in the center of the one-sheet, yet isn't the Main Character, nor the Influence Character. As "memorable" as her singing was, Meryl's titular role as Florence Foster Jenkins functions simply as the focal point of the conflict.

The Throughlines of *Florence Foster Jenkins*

The ruse to persuade "music lovers" and the press to embrace Forence's unique singing skills places the Overall Story Throughline squarely in the Psychology or Manipulation Domain. From here conflict doesn't express itself in fistfights, or prejudice, or impossible situations. The film instead chooses wisely to focus on the various Ways of Thinking that bring the characters of this world into close proximity and into constant conflict.

St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) serves as mastermind and Protagonist of this effort—yet his personal issues found in the Main Character Throughline find him caught in a unique and pressing Situation. As a washed-up stage actor married to a rich woman stricken with syphillus, St. Clair struggles to balance his own personal desires with the very reality of financial independence.

Directly opposed to St. Clair—and a constant source of challenge—is pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg). Fulfilling quite adequately the requirement for an Influence Character Throughline, Cosmé's attempts to submerge his impulse to burst out laughing directly impact St. Clair's need for security.

From the trailer and the logline one would imagine the heart of the story to center around the relationship between the husband and the wife. Alas, the marriage and the conflict within finds itself split between the Overall Story Throughline and the Main Character Throughline. The business relationship turned friendship between St. Clair and McMoon features as the heart and soul of the film. Their Activities to keep Florence in the dark as to St. Clair's adultery and the bad press surrounding her performances define the Relationship Story Throughline for this story.

Throughlines find the strangest bedfellows in comedies. What would seem appropriate and matter-of-fact given the subject matter, ends up twisted and on its ear in sevice of surprise and uproarious laughter.

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1 week ago

Using Dramatica to Assess Narratives in the Real World

We're very excited to announce that we hired our first two employees here at Narrative First! The explosion in requests for our services over the summer kicked our plans into high gear. We look forward to providing not only a higher quality of service, but also unique and compelling services not available elsewhere.

Story consultant Jon Gentry will be helping out with story analysis with an emphasis on real world narratives while vitality coach Summer De La Fuente will be using Dramatica to help locate and resolve their own personal issues.

More detailed info on our site within the coming days...

In addition, I cover my initial analysis of Florence Foster Jenkins.

Links and Show Notes

And don't forget...

Narrative First theme by Alex Hull. Hear more on his Soundcloud, Operation Solace

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2 weeks ago

This month's Dramatica Users Group meeting featured the Billy Wilder classic, Stalag 17. While simple and straightforward in its storytelling, it is its storyform and arrangement of throughlies that is compelling and unique.

William Holden, the Sgt. Sefton character, features prominently in most of the advertising and marketing for the film. Clearly the strongest actor of the group and definitely the focus of all attention in the story, one would assume he would easily fall into the role of the Main Character. After all, it is his film, right?

The Throughlines of *Stalag 17*

The Main Character of a story is neither the one we focus our attention on, nor the one we root for. Instead, the Main Character Throughline represents our eyes and ears into the story. If we don't experience the story the way they do, they are not the Main Character.

Sefton spends a considerable time off-screen doing things we don't know about. In addition, we don't get to know him personally. We don't know his ambitions, his desires, his thoughts, or dreams. We only experience his sour Fixed Attitude from a distance…the way we would if he fulfilled the Influence Character Throughline.

The remaining men in barracks 4 supply the Main Character Throughline. As a collective group dynamic stuck in a Situation where they find themselves dancing romantically with one another, they share the same perspective on Sefton's guilt and on the inner and outer workings of Stalag 17. This truly is a unique structural dynamic. Often the Influence Character role will hand-off from one player to the next—rare is the film that tries this with the personal throughline.1

With those two Throughlines in place, the remaining two fall easily into the Dramatica structural model. The Whodunit of the Overall Story Throughline garners violent Activity and retribution; the apparently repugnant Ways of Thinking drives a wedge between fellow soldiers who should be foxhole buddies first when it comes to defining their Relationship Story Throughline.

Films from the mid-20th century often focus on the same thematic material and present typical points of reference. Stalag 17 stands out as a sharp departure from the norm and an example of what can be done to make the structure of a story unique.


  1. The Influence Character role is handed off in Dickens' A Christmas Carol and in Blazing Saddles. The only film that shares a collective Main Character perspective is South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Good company! 

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