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?

Packing my bags for Schitt$ Creek

This week, I watched the pilot of Schitt$ Creek (S1:E1).  Here’s what happened in the first half of the episode:

  • The Rose family gets evicted from their estate and moves into a dingy motel with nothing to their name but the deed to Schitts Creek, a town that Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) once bought for his son as a joke.
  • Alexis (the daughter) hopes her socialite boyfriend will rescue her by private jet (even though he will only “maybe say I love you at some point.”)
  • Mayor Roland Schitt overstays his welcome. Schitt$ Creek - Image by CBC

In his iconic book, Story, Robert McKee says that gut-busting laughter happens when the “gap between expectation and result” bursts open.  Sometimes comedies are written “just for the yucks” (McKee) and other times they are planned down to the minute, even before the jokes have been written.  Comedies aren’t easy to predict and that’s why they’re so fun to watch.

Schitt$ Creek essentials
A few essentials before blogging about Schitt$ Creek.

Here’s what I predicted:

  • Alexis does not get whisked away by her socialite boyfriend – TRUE! This was an easy guess, though.
  • Johnny reluctantly cozies up with the Mayor, but it backfires – TRUE! This happens at the end of the pilot and again in the second episode (and many times throughout the series, I’m sure).
  • Someone gets a terrible job that they eventually love – HALF TRUE! Johnny gets a terrible job in episode three, which he soon quits, but this prediction is bound to be fulfilled at some point in the show, isn’t it?
  • The Roses are downgraded to one motel room – FALSE! I had high hopes that the Roses would be stuck in even closer quarters.  Maybe next time.
CBC Schitt$ Creek Reaction
Schitt$ Creek is ridiculous. And hilarious.

Probably the best indicator of how much I enjoyed Schitt$ Creek is that I ended up watching 8 more episodes after the pilot.  The cast is full of wonderful comedians, and, as a former resident of the Poultry Capital of Niagara, I’m loving every time Schitts Creek’s small town charm bumps up against the Rose family’s posh snobbery.

TV Tuttle gives this episode 3.5/5 stolen motel doors.

Schitt$ Creek Rating