Story Structure

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Voni
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Story Structure

Post by Voni » April 28th, 2011, 4:37 pm

I've seen the three-act structure (three disasters/turning points), and I'm curious how this relates/fits into the traditional Aristotelian story arc (rising action/climax/falling action).

Specifically: Where does the climax fit into the the three-act structure? It seems to have three climaxes!

Thanks!
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Voni

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polymath
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Re: Story Structure

Post by polymath » April 28th, 2011, 5:04 pm

The classic Aristotlean structure parallels the three act structure in a general sense. The exposition act leads into the inciting crisis, which bridges into the rising action act. The climax act follows and leads into the falling action act, which, in turn leads to the final crisis, which bridges into the denouement act.

A three act structure--beginning, middle, and ending--blurs and ties exposition act, inciting crisis, and rising action act, which overlaps into the climax act at the midpoint, which in turn overlaps into the ending act, which, respectively, blurs and ties the falling action act, final crisis, and denouement act.

Freytag's theory of dramatic structure added a tragic crisis bridge between the climax act and the falling action act. Theoretically, there's another crisis bridging the rising action act and the climax act. Five acts bridged by four crises. The five act structure is the basis for the three act structure.

Exposition act--at least one scene
Inciting crisis--at least one scene
Rising action act-at least three scenes
Realization crisis--at least one scene
Climax act--up to three scenes
Tragic crisis--at least one scene
Falling action act--at least three scenes
Final crisis--at least one scene
Denouement--at least one scene

Exposition meaning outset, setup, and/or introductions.
Realization meaning the main dramatic complication's full ramifications are recognized.

Climax in a general sense is a term for readers' emotional climax from nexuses of tension, causation, and antagonism as pertains to dramatic conflict. That climax usually occurs at or about the final crisis. However, a dramatic climax in the Aristotlean sense is the scene in a narrative when all salient information about a main dramatic complication is known, outcome of the main dramatic complication is most in doubt, efforts to address the main dramatic complication are greatest, and antagonism forces are in greatest opposition.

A careful comparison of reader climax and dramatic climax would indicate a narrative has an internal to itself climax and an external one which occurs in readers. The underlying concept of both is known as emotional equilbrium. Plot movement begins when emotional equilibrium is upset, ideally in an opening or exposition act. Emotional disequilibrium peaks internally in the climax act and separates externally for readers, ideally continuing to rise in tension, and peaks externally for readers during a final crisis scene. Regardless, emotional equilibrium is restored in a denouement act.
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Louise Curtis
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Re: Story Structure

Post by Louise Curtis » April 28th, 2011, 6:53 pm

I love the book "Sabriel" by Garth Nix, so I recently analysed it. Here it is in 8 sections, by 50-page lengths (kept vague to avoid ruining the book). I've indicated by bold comments where I think Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3 belong.

1. Prologue (with its own inciting incident), inciting incident, plus two smaller scenes that reveal the heroine's vulnerability and her choice to find her father (who is in some kind of trouble - as she discovered in the inciting incident). The stakes rise as she discovers some of the potential consequences if her father dies (he has an extremely important magical job).

2. Huge action sequence as she goes into the unfamiliar (and dangerous) kingdom of her birth. Very much "The Journey into the Unknown (that wants to kill you)".

This is the end of Act 1, which in this case is all about beginnings/getting started. Just as she reaches (supposed) safety, she is confronted by a new problem: a very powerful character (M) who may or may not be evil. Thus, we remain stressed

3. She recuperates with the sarcastic assistance of M, and they set off on the next phase of their journey. Things get scarier, and then they get worse.

4. M - her one companion - actively makes things much, much worse (but not because of any stupidity on the heroine's part). They take on another companion, T, in mysterious circumstances. (M clearly knows something very bad about T, but isn't telling the heroine.)

5. The companions face danger again, and even more is revealed about the crucial importance of their quest to rescue the heroine's father.

This is the end of Act 2. There is plenty of tension and action. The stakes are now higher (if the father dies, the entire Kingdom is in serious trouble) and the heroine's companions only make her situation more precarious. This is what a middle should look like - everything is more three-dimensional, and more stressful for the reader (readers live for stress).

6. They find the father (at an extremely creepy location).

7. They are forced to simultaneously confront the bad guy - and flee.

8. Final battle with the bad guy, which in one scene brings together the importance of the dad, M, and T - while the heroine is still the most active character, and the focus of the story. Resolution.

Act 3 is all about a massive climax, and (finally) the release of all that stress in the form of a complete resolution.

You'll notice it takes 100 pages to begin the story, 150 for the middle, and 150 to end it. The reader is never left without action for long, and one stress is never resolved without another cropping up (often just before the previous stress is resolved, so they overlap).

Each section has several mini-climaxes, with the scariest part leading in to the next Act (the "stress graph" of your novel should zigzag higher and higher with each mini-climax until the end climax, then drop sharply at the resolution).

The only thing you REALLY need to know about plot is to maintain the stress until the end.
Louise Curtis
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Voni
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Re: Story Structure

Post by Voni » April 29th, 2011, 4:42 pm

Thanks, you two! Much more technical and informative than I expected--two different climaxes...the emotional and the Aristotelian. Wow. And the analysis was helpful. Thanks for the thoughts!

Louise Curtis
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Re: Story Structure

Post by Louise Curtis » April 30th, 2011, 2:29 am

You're welcome.

You can tell by my posts that I write novels, not short stories. Can't help myself :)
Louise Curtis
Twitter Tales @Louise_Curtis_
Writing Tips, Steampunk, Baby Talk, and Daily Awesomeness http://twittertales.wordpress.com

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