Story Structure 101

These last few weeks on TV Tuttle have been filled with vampires, stolen motel doors and dramatically divvied out roses.  This week, I’d like to pause and go through the elements of a great story.

Story by Robert McKee
Robert McKee’s iconic book, Story, is widely read by many professional and aspiring writers.

My knowledge of story writing is heavily influenced by Robert McKee’s iconic book, Story, in which he outlines the following essential elements for a good story:

A main character or protagonist.  This person or group is the reason why there’s a story in the first place.

  • Every character has two things: an inner need (e.g. a need to be accepted or feel in control) and an outer desire (e.g. get elected to office or win a gold medal).
  • The main character’s desires move the narrative forward and are the basis for all their decisions.
  • The most interesting characters are those whose inner need and outer need conflict with each other (think about Marlin’s outer desire to find Nemo compared with his crippling fear of travelling across the ocean).

Conflict.  It wouldn’t be interesting if the main character got everything they wanted; that doesn’t make for a compelling story.

  • The need for conflict is why every story will also have an antagonist or villain.  The antagonist – or even, forces of antagonism (e.g. an oppressive law) – opposes the protagonist in every way (e.g. Spiderman & the Green Goblin).

Here’s a visual look at story structure and what it means:

Story Structure

  • Status Quo = the situation before the story begins.
  • Inciting Incident = what sets the protagonist on their journey.
  • Crisis = the ‘point of no return’.  Things won’t be the same for the main character after this point.
  • Climax = ‘the hero risks it all’.  The protagonist puts everything on the line to try and get the thing they want most.  They will either be very successful (comedy) or crash and burn (tragedy).
  • Falling Action = what happens after the climax.  This is the part where the story’s loose ends start to wrap up and set the path for a new status quo.
  • New Status Quo = what the world is like now that the protagonist has gone through this incredible story journey.

What do you think I should watch next week on TV Tuttle?

TV Tuttle: The Pilot

Have you ever watched a TV show and been COMPLETELY shocked by how it turned out?  Maybe you’ve had the opposite experience: you watched a crappy movie and called out the plot details before they even happened (much to the amusement of everyone else you were watching that show with, I’m sure).

And don’t tell me you “don’t watch television,” (unless you’re one of those admirable people whose love of reading overpowers their love in television, in which case, respect).  Numeris reports that the average Canadian watches 19.5 hours of television per week. Netflix boasts 93.8 million subscribers that watch over 125 million hours of TV & movies every day.  People are watching TV.  And lots of it.

Skill Set Go!
I worked as a Writer & Director for the pilot web series Skill Set Go, coming soon through Edge Factor.
April Leung on set with Edge Factor
Actor April Leung on set for a pilot series being developed with Edge Factor

My love of stories and television is what led me to create this blog, TV Tuttle.  The premise is simple: I’m going to watch the first half of a TV episode I’ve never seen before.  Then, using principles of storytelling and acting, I’m going to predict how the rest of the episode will pan out.  Then I will finish watching the episode and be either delighted or disappointed at how my prediction went.

As for me, I have lived and breathed television all my life (not literally of course, there’s probably poisonous chemicals or something inside those screens, but you get the idea).

The long story short is that I have dedicated a significant amount of my life to understanding how to tell good stories.  This lifelong trajectory includes: working professionally in theatre, studying English literature, creative writing, popular culture and dramatic arts in university, and even having a few poems published.  I am so excited to bring that to this blog about another love of mine: television.

Please, comment your suggestions for shows you think I should watch and feature on this blog.  And don’t forget to tune in!