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September 5, 2015

Story Writing 101: Dramatic Structure

Story writing can seem to be a very illusive thing when you are just getting started; something akin to catching a ghost in your hands. But you need to realize that there are a number of structural elements to writing a story that you need in place for it to actually be a good story. So let’s take a look at the some different structures a story can have.story writing

The first question you want to ask yourself when determining your story’s structure is what the heck is it about? Yes, I know. Pretty easy. But it will determine a lot of other things because your story writing will follow one of thirty six dramatic situations.

What is a dramatic situation? A dramatic situation is something like vengeance taken upon a kinsman for a kinsman or a fugitive runs from justice or injustice. There are 36 dramatic situations as determined by Georges Polti and they lay the groundwork for the structure of the rest of your story.

Story Writing 101: Kinsman Slays Kinsman

For example in vengeance taken upon a kinsman for a kinsman you need three fundamental characters: a victim who is wronged, a family member who has wronged the victim and a family member who is avenging the victim. The story will shape itself around these three characters and what they do.

story wriiting

This would be a completely different story if the dramatic situation was a fugitive runs from justice or injustice. In this dramatic structure we only have two central characters the fugitive and the punishment. It doesn’t matter whether one character is in the right or the other is. All that matters is that one character is running away from another one who wants to open up a can of whoop ass.

For more information on this see Georges Polti’s famous book Thirty Six Dramatic Situations.

From these dramatic situations your story writing will develop more structure in the plot. How do you want to portray this story? For example is the story a romance? If so the story will need two lovers and they will follow a fundamental story arch: boy sees girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl are separated by circumstances, boy overcomes the circumstances and gets girl.

Pretty simple right? Well, if your storystory writing is a romance it probably will not use the dramatic situation of a fugitive running from justice or injustice. It just wouldn’t fit. But, it might work with vengeance taken upon a kinsman for a kinsman.

For example perhaps the boy and girl fall in love but then the boy kills the girl’s brother (that will make for some awkward chit chat at the next holiday party). This is the thing that comes between the boy and the girl and the focus of the story is the boy overcoming this obstacle.

But maybe that’s not quite the story you want to tell. Then you could use a parallel structure where we see one plot line diverge from another the moment the boy kills the girl’s brother. One half of the story would show what happens if the boy had not killed the girl’s brother and the other what happens if he had. More plot structures like these can be found in the excellent book Story Structure Architect.

Various characters can serve as structural elements as well. So if you’re new to story writing you don’t have to feel like you’re floating around in an ocean. Grab on to some structural elements and start shaping your story around them.

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