Sunday, April 22, 2012
Shape of a Story - Aristotle and Johakyu
Through out history many metaphors have been used to map a story. Almost all of these have had two things in common, being a visual metaphor allowing me to use lots of imgs and all of them breaking the story into some fixed number of stages allowing me to post them numerically. (YEAH FOR ORDER!)
Three Part Structure
"'ολον δε εστιν το εχον αρχην και μεσον και τελευτην"
"A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end"
The oldest metaphor for the shape of a story is Aristotle's three act story. Generally only briefly mentioned in literature courses and ignored by writers entirely because it really doesn't help much to say a story has a beginning, middle, and end. It's like saying a line* is two points and everything in between; duh.
A quick google image search showed me that most representations of the three act story try to force more complex structures on to it to make more sense out of it and then arbitrary draw two lines and call it a three act story because that is what the course syllabus says. (did I mention I hate English courses ಠ_ಠ )**
(img1: the three act story... in four acts| img2: three acts of math class with (count them) 4 parts | img3: oh look its mountain climbing again and the three acts are written in at the bottom with nearly no relation to the chart)***
The three act story was never really meant to be held up as a real metaphor for the shape of a story, it was a small comment by Aristotle in an otherwise great work. However the 3 act story is important because it inspired the later theories I will be going into, but there is one interesting fact in the three act story that I would like to call attention too which is the gaps between the acts. The pivotal turning points in the three act story, are the single take-away that I think is worth learning.
Between the Setup and the Quest is the heroes decision to go on the quest. The important moment where Luke looks at the burning remains of his home and family and says, "well fuck, lets go kick some empire ass old man." (what Lucas can ruin it and I can't?) If your hero doesn't have a point where he makes this decision then the story is not challenging enough to the hero who is probably a Marry Sue.
Between the Quest and the Conclusion lies the climax, the moment where the hero gets the skills, magic sword, triforce, or whatever and the tables turn, he starts winning. If you don't have this then your character was either not challenged enough to begin with, or only won by chance and didn't earn their victory. Either way their was probably no growth as a character. Calling the moment where a character gains power the climax and not the final show down with the boss might seem odd but this is because modern cinema has shied away from characters who grow for cardboard action heroes who just have to fight their way to the final fight of fightyness where they can finally, um, fight.
To give you some examples; this turning point is when the Rebel Alliance gets the Death Star's schematics. This is when Harry gets the sword of Gryffindor (in Deathly Hollows) learns how to destroy the Horcrux, reunites with Ron and stops moping in a tent (finally, thank god). This is just about every single power up in Link to the Past (the mirror was probably supposed to be the big turning point but for me it was the grappling hook, that thing was awesome)****
Jo - Beginning
Ha - Breaking/Scattering
Kyu - Rapid/Urgent
A similar three part structure comes from Japanese Noh Theater and depicts the same three stages. In Jo, the stage is set the characters are introduced including their setting and goals. The world is simple but the elements introduced are not in accord but neither have they clashed yet.
In Ha these different elements interact, conflicting and combining to seek a balanced state. This is the rising action of the story, the characters now interact and fight out their differences.
When a combination is found that will eventually result in harmony or resolution Kyu begins and the characters carry out their plans to the conclusion. Whether this harmony is the beautiful ending of a song, the final battle to defeat evil, or the tragic ending that clears away all of the players. This is the part where the die is cast, the hero is resolute, and the world is set on course to be restored to whatever status quo was disrupted at the beginning.
*line segment, stop bitchin math peeps (why are you here anyway?)
**also did I mention I love emoticons.
***we will be coming back to the mountain metaphor later, don't worry it comes from somewhere
****Multiple Climaxes, not just a myth ^_o