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?

8 thoughts on “Story Structure 101”

  1. Marcus! Thanks for these last two posts. They are very helpful for PR professionals trying to make the “newsworthy” into a great story. Love your blog! 10/10 belly laughs.

  2. Watch Black Mirror, especially Season 3! You will be amazed 🙂 Each episode is independent. I propose S03E01.

    Concerning types of plots, I usually can’t stop thinking of 7 types of them (The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker): Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, Rebirth.

  3. I really enjoyed reading the breakdown of how a story is written. It really is a science in a way. I always imagine a writer just being hit with inspiration and typing away furiously, but this post makes me realize how much more structure goes along with it. Great read, Marcus! I look forward to reading more 🙂

  4. There is such a buzz about Stranger Things. You should watch one of the episodes from season 1 before the next season comes out. Would be interesting to hear from a Millennial’s point of view, with it being set in the 80s.

    1. I loved Stranger Things! I’m thinking of doing a “TV hall of fame” sometime for this blog and breaking down some of my favourite shows and episodes…but first I’ve got to make some more predictions for shows I haven’t watched yet 🙂

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