Michael T Vollmann

Filmmaker

Cleared for takeoff.

Narrative Structure

A story needs to have a HERO.

The hero should be ON A JOURNEY, OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

NO OBSTACLES = BORING

 

HERO'S JOURNEY

Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” wasn’t intended to be a blueprint to create stories or films, but it has become that for many auteurs. In the book, Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.

 He summarized it as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell broke the concept into seventeen stages, which could be divided into the three act structure most commonly found in film and theater: Separation, Initiation, and Return.

 

CONTEMPORARY SCREENPLAYS

In the contemporary screenwriting book, SAVE THE CAT, author Blake Snyder outlines a 15 "beat" structure for screenwriting. It aligns very closely with Campbell's

 

SHORT FILMS

For a short form film we might want to simply the structure a bit since there's less time to pass along as much information as in a feature film or novel.

If we were to boil down narrative structure to the bare minimum, it might be written in the broadest terms as 5 beats.

  1. Starting point for the main conflict (around the 1/4 mark): The event that makes the protagonist commit to the story goal.
  2. Midpoint (around the halfway mark): The event that flips the reader’s and/or the protagonist’s understanding of the story’s goals, choices, or stakes.
  3. Black moment (around the 3/4 mark): The event that makes the protagonist lose all hope
  4. Climax for the main conflict (most of the last 1/4): The event that forces the protagonist into the final battle (literal or figurative) against the antagonistic forces.
  5. Resolution, or the outcome.