Dramatic Structure

You may be surprised to learn that story-telling is one of the keys to our human evolution. Story-telling, brought on by our ability for cognitive thinking and ever-changing technology, is special to our species alone. We have a great need to understand the world around us, to make sense of tragedies and ill-luck. We started telling stories long before there was written word.

I’d like to offer up a study that you can read about here, which, though more research does need to be done, shows a correlation between story-tellers and their survival. It’s an interesting read. The researchers, led by anthropologist Daniel Smith, began his work by conducting a study of forager cultures in Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, and other small communities.

So, how does this connect to the Dramatic Structure, the real reason you’ve visited this post? Let’s take a look at what Dramatic Structure is:

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said the play should imitate a single whole action. “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end”. This goes for every story, regardless of form. There are several types of structures writers choose, but they all have this in common: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In the coming weeks, I’ll take a look at the 3 act structure and each of its point’s timings. Keep in mind that these coming posts can be applied to any structure you choose.

But why do we love stories so much? Believe it or not, it’s because we love being part of a community. Every human, despite what they tell other people and themselves (much like the Character’s Lie we’ll get into later), we all want to belong. Story-telling is unifying. It takes place in every culture in the world. It binds us together.

Your Brain On Stories

Photo by Robina Weermeijer

Our brains recognize patterns in stories, including the instinctual moments we know something should be happening. We connect stories to our own experiences, trying to find meaning through their words to something we can’t quite understand yet in our lives.

Your brain lights up when you hear or read a story because it’s triggering different parts of your sensories. It invokes cognitive thoughts, you form opinions, come up with ideas, and make connections. A good story influences us one way or another.

Notice I say good. A good story will incite feelings in you, provoke your thoughts, light up your brain. It can only do that if we can connect to it on a human level (even when the story has little to do with humans, since we have a habit of personifying everything). To write a good story, as mentioned, you have to have a beginning, middle, and end. No matter if it’s a short story or an epic, our minds need these three factors to connect to it.

Let’s take a look at what a beginning, middle, and end entail. Keep in mind that length does figure into which points you hit, but those in italics are the ones you want to aim for.

Hitting the points:

  1. Normal world (Status Quo) Beginning
  2. Inciting incident
  3. Key event
  4. First Plot Point
  5. First Pinch Point
  6. Mid PointMiddle
  7. Second Pinch Pt
  8. Second Plot Point
  9. Climax
  10. ResolutionEnd

You’ll find rising and falling action throughout the structure. Our brains will know when something is naturally supposed to happen. Imagine structure as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Photo by Chris Brignola

Think of the rising and falling action as the cables on the bridge. They rise, they fall. Some points are higher than others. It has to be this way to keep the structure of the bridge stable. It’s the same thing with stories. To keep the structure stable, we must have rising and falling action.

There you have it! Dramatic Structure in a nutshell. Tell me in the comments below some of the best books, plays, or what-have-you that you have had the pleasure to experience with great dramatic structure!

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