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?

Sinking my teeth into The Vampire Diaries

This week on (the first half of) The Vampire Diaries (S8,E8):

  1. Vampire bros Stefan & Damon place a bet on whether this kind doctor named Tara is mean enough to kill Damon.
  2. Caroline (nice vampire) discovers that Sybil (mean vampire) uses mind control to get students to locate an old, magic bell. Sybil threatens to kill the students if Caroline can’t find the bell in time.
  3. An angsty father-son combo do some research about an old family bell (aha!).
Stefan & Damon, The Vampire Diaries
Vampire brothers Stefan & Damon

This episode (and probably most of TVD) follows what Christopher Booker describes as the “Overcoming the Monster” plot, which involves a seemingly invincible monster, a narrow escape from death, and a prize for the hero (usually a princess or treasure).

The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker
By Source, Fair use,

Using Booker’s ideas, I made the following predictions:

  • Stefan loses control & enjoys being evil more than he should, reverting closer to his “Ripper” history– TRUE! Turns out he’s on a secret mission to be evil, but only temporarily?  Oh, and he devoured a whole bunch of hospital staff at the end.  Yikes.
  • Sybil doesn’t find the magic bell – TRUE! Someone named Selene has it, but apparently she’s hiding in the 1800’s.
  • Sybil’s students narrowly escape death– TRUE! Angsty father-son pair Peter and Matt save them, literally seconds before they all go up in flames. Phew!
  • Caroline wards off Sybil temporarily, but is stuck with her for a bit longer– TRUE! Turns out Caroline’s kids are in exile somewhere but Sybil could hurt them?
  • Tara lives – FALSE! I was too hopeful…I thought she’d outwit Stefan and Damon.  Unfortunately, she passed their ‘test’ and therefore, had to die.
How I felt while watching The Vampire Diaries
Thoughts while watching The Vampire Diaries.

Overall, the episode was pretty cringe-worthy.  From cheesy dialogue to overdone tropes, monotone, trying-to-make-vampires-sexy acting, magic plot elements (mind control much?) and even a weird case of vampire cat-calling, I’ll be perfectly content to tune into other channels from here on out.

TV Tuttle gives this episode 1.5/5 mind controlling vampire bats.

1.5/5 mind controlling vampire bats