Story • Common Narrative Structures • and • How to Reproduce Them
Foundations • first theory of narrative formulated by Aristotle in The Poetics • his theory is still the basis of all mainstream storytelling • came up with “Beginning, Middle, End” (What does this really mean?)
According to The Poetics: • the beginning is that which has no cause, and causes other things • the middle is that which has a cause, and also causes other things • the end is that which has a cause, and causes nothing else
Two important observations: • the basic relation in narrative is cause and effect • causal relations are filtered by relevance (seems obvious, but this is belied by the existence of crap)
relevance implies that causation is not merely physical, but psychological • characters are provoked, do stuff which provokes other characters
Conflict • protagonist wants something, can’t get it • usually because some other character wants the opposite • or an impersonal situation prevents it Result: characters act against one another, or against their situation (again, seems obvious, but belied by crap)
Types of Conflict: • person vs. person • person vs. self • person vs. nature • person vs. God (not mutually exclusive; distinctions between them may be fuzzy)
Leads to well-known three-part structure: • development - status quo is perturbed; characters act and take sides • climax - conflict reaches its height; protagonist wins or loses • resolution - things settle back down (different people use different terms)
3-part structure actually insufficient - need 5-part stucture • development - as before • first climax - gives false sense of security, exposes deeper problems in situation and protagonists • nightmare/living hell - situation at its worst; protagonists truly struggle • second climax - protagonists either grow and win, or don’t grow and lose • resolution - as before
purpose of first climax and nightmare/living hell phases is to reveal character flaws • forces characters to overcome their own flaws in order to prevail in the second climax • shows the importance of character development • (also useful for providing extra length)
Star Wars • Luke wants to join the Rebellion, become a Jedi, rescue the princess, etc. • Escape from the Death Star! • Kenobi dead; Death Star tracks Luke & Co. to the rebel base. • Destroy the Death Star! • Happy ending.
Every romantic comedy ever made • Boy and girl meet. • Boy and girl become romantically involved (“climax”, get it?). • Boy and girl have some sort of huge misunderstanding. • Boy and girl overcome their problems and re-unite permanently. • Boy and girl live happily ever after.
Talking cars that race! Lightning McQueen wins first race, shows himself to be an jerk. Jerkiness causes him to get stranded in Radiator Springs, where he learns good ole’ rural values. Loses the second race, but wins AT LIFE. Goes back to Radiator Springs and lives happily ever after. Cars
Afredo and Remy find themselves at Gusto’s restaurant. Initial success with the soup; Alfredo and Remy team up and become professional chefs. Alfredo’s a fraud; Remy’s still a rat. They alienate everyone and raise Skinner’s suspicions. Gusto’s is shut down, but not before they win over Ego with the ratatouille. The three start their own restaurant and live happily ever after. Ratatouille
Extra stuff • when to resolve conflicts? • reversals • recognition • repetition and foreshadowing
Conflict Resolution • a non-trivial story typically has many conflicts • if resolution of a conflict is necessary to advance the plot, then resolve as needed • if a conflict exists only to add suspense and place a psychological burden on the protagonists, then resolve after the climax
reversal - pretty much what it sounds like; things end up the opposite of what’s expected • recognition - protoganist learns something profound that he didn’t know before, which changes everything
Foreshadowing & repetition • creates suspense • prevents the appearance of randomness • encourages economy and re-use • creates emotional resonance
Application Tom & Jerry: “Puppy Tale” • 5-part structure • “rule of three” • recognition • reversal • foreshadowing & repetition
How can I create good stories when I have limited time, education, and experience?
Steal. (also known as:) • borrowing • re-using • imitating • emulating • finding inspiration • alluding • referring • parodying • paying tribute • making an homage • etc.
One source: Design Patterns (a.k.a archetypes) • the quest • slaying the monster (Star Wars) • rags to riches (Ratatouille) • rebirth (Cars) • voyage and return (~Wall-E) • comedy (every romatic comedy ever made) • tragedy (Revenge of the Sith [video clip!]) (Booker, The Seven Basic Plots)
Another source: steal from the best or oldest • Myths, legends, folklore • Fairy tales, nursery rhymes, urban legends • Literature
Example: Pygmalion (Ancient Greek myth) Pygmalion, a great sculptor, carves a statue of his idea of the perfect woman and falls in love with it. Aphrodite pities him and turns the statue into a real woman. Pygmalion and the ex-statue live happily ever after.
Pygmalion (Ancient Greek myth) Pygmalion (Theatrical play, 1912) My Fair Lady (Musical & film, 1956) She’s All That (Teen movie, 1999) Not Another Teen Movie (Vulgar parody, 2001) (video clips!)
Trans-historic Cross-genre Arc of Narrative Re-use (not a real thing) Myth & Legend Literature/High Art Mainstream/Pop Art Value Parody/Trash Art Time
Amleth (Scandinavian legend) Hamlet (Shakespeare) Hamlet (Mel Gibson) Value Hamlet (Simpsons, South Park) Time
Biblical & mythological allusions Moby Dick (Melville) Moby Dick (Gregory Peck) Value “Dicky Moe” (Tom & Jerry) Time
personal experiences personal issues, crushing psychological trauma, etc. re-use or extend stories you’ve already created Yet another source: steal from yourself
Example: James Bond • recurring plot #1: manipulation of supowers into military conflict, escalation to World War 3 • recurring plot #2: artificial scarcity and monopolization of a precious commodity
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) • Villain stages military incidents between Britain and China. • Britain and China blame each other. • Escalation to WW3. • ??? • Profit!
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) • Villain launches nuclear missiles at New York and Moscow. • USA and USSR blame each other. • Escalation to WW3. • ??? • Profit!
You Only Live Twice (1967) • Villain captures US and Soviet spacecraft. • USA and USSR blame each other. • Escalation to WW3. • ??? • Profit! (video clips!)
Goldfinger (1964) • Villain attempts to detonate atomic bomb in Fort Knox. • US gold supply is irratiated. • Value of villain’s gold stockpile increases tenfold. • Bonus: economic collapse of the West.
A View to a Kill (1985) • Villain attempts to destroy Silicon Valley. • US semiconductor production halts. • Villain’s semiconductor cartel monopolizes the market. • Bonus: economic collapse of the West.
The World Is Not Enough (1999) • Villain attempts to cause a nuclear meltdown in a major oil distribution hub. • Pipelines relying on that hub become useless. • Villain’s pipeline monopolizes oil distribution. • Bonus: economic collapse of the West.
Quantum of Solace (2008) • Villain dams up subterranean rivers in Bolivia. • Creates drought, controls most of Bolivia’s water supply. • Villain becomes Bolivia’s new utilities provider. • (Economy of the West already collapsing.) (video clips!)
The Moral: • Go ahead and steal. Everyone does it. • There’s nothing new under the sun. • All of this stuff is much older than you think.