This week, my focus has been on learning about the 11 “Master Structures,” and structuring my story accordingly. Without completely regurgitating the book, I’ll try to give you an idea of what the author is talking about:
We’re all probably familiar with the traditional Aristotelian three-act structure of Setup, Development, and Climax and Resolution. But then there are all those stories that don’t seem to fit that, somehow… what do we do with those?
If you’re Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., you develop some new ones (or at least you finally talk about the ones that have existed forever), and detail how each one differs from the traditional structure.
In the book, of course, there is plenty of detail provided about each structure and how it is used, but I’ll keep it short:
The Roller Coaster Ride – Basically, this one never takes its foot off the gas pedal. It’s plot driven, and each act has its own climax. No slow-build nonsense here. Just non-stop thrills. The Avengers comes to mind.
The Replay – This one “is defined as having two or more versions of events in one story.” It can be all Groundhog Day, with one character reliving events over and over, or it can be the same events as narrated by several characters.
Fate – This is the one that starts with the climax, and then does a quick rewind to tell you how it all started.
The parallel – We’re talking about The Two Towers here. Two separate plots happening at the same time, and eventually coming together at the climax.
The Episodic – Episodes. Plain and simple. Like on TV. Each episode has its own individual three-act structure, linked by some sort of common theme or main character.
The Melodrama – Here’s where it gets complicated. There are two types of melodrama, Female and Male.
- Female Melodrama deals with the fact that patriarchal culture has no place for women outside traditional roles. Stories are usually open-ended, with the character losing out.
- Male Melodrama deals with family issues. The story does get reconciled in the end, but only through compromise between family life and other things.
But essentially, both types of melodrama are emotional, usually tragic, and slightly over-the-top. You know. Melodrama.
Romance – I don’t think this one needs too much explanation, do you? Boy meets girl, smoochy-smoochy, blah blah blah, happilyeverafter.
The Journey – This can be a journey of internal growth, or a series of mettle-testing external events. There are three types of journey, Feminine, Masculine, and Joseph Campbell:
- In the Feminine Journey, the hero faces death, symbolic or literal, and is eventually reborn as a complete being in charge of his or her own life.
- In the Masculine Journey, the hero’s perfect world is upset by a situation, and must choose whether to experience an Awakening which will lead him or her to a mini Feminine Journey, or to Rebel, which usually results in failure.
- The Joseph Campbell Journey follows a Traditional structure, and is basically… well, your classic journey story. When I was reading the Joseph Campbell outline, I got a little confused and thought I was reading the plot for The Hobbit.
Interactive – More often seen in video games than in novels, but cool if you can pull it off. It’s the choose-your-own-adventure type.
Metafiction – The brain-bending structure. Self-conscious fictional writing. Questioning how fiction and reality are related. The Things They Carried.
Slice of Life – This one doesn’t follow a clear structure. You just pick a point in time, choose an incident to start things off, and then off you go.
So there you have it. Eleven basic structures. I’ve been using them for my story planning this week by applying each one to my idea, and seeing what changes. It’s been massively educational, and even the ones that wouldn’t work (like, at all), have given me new ideas to play around with as my plotting gets more detailed. I highly recommend it as an exercise, especially if, like me, plotting is your weak area.
Next week, I’ll be getting into “The 55 Dramatic Situations.” I have no idea what to expect, but it sounds intense.
So cheers to that.