Rhetoric of Story – Part 6

Structure – the key to complex storytelling

The sixth element of the Rhetoric of Story is the key to telling stories at longer lengths and greater complexity. Without a clear structure, novels and plays are unlikely to hold the attention of an audience for any length of time. Structure is bigger than any single writer or storyteller. We always employ structures that have been, at least in part, evolved by the storytellers who came before us. Ideas introduced in the lecture include:

  • Story structures evolve over time and are shared by many different stories.
  • Three Act Structure – Exposition, Complication, Resolution.
  • Essential events – Inciting Incident, Midway Turning Point, Crisis / Climax / Resolution
  • Alternate structures : Five act structure, Kishōtenketsu, TV serial, 3 act structure in novels.
  • Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth.
  • It’s OK to steal story structures! (In fact it should be compulsory)

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Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces inspired some of the most amazing storytelling of the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s an absolute must read for any ambitious writer. 


Structural Analysis – you can’t steal story structures until you know what they are. Take a story you know really well, a film, novel play or other format. Write an analysis of the structure. Consider all the elements we have covered in Rhetoric of Story. What is the change? Who is the protagonist, what do they want? Who are the other characters and what are their relationships? Where is the conflict? What are the acts, sequences, scenes and beats? Keep going until you thoroughly understand the story.

This is an exercise to repeat many times with many different kinds of stories. You will learn far more from a single structural analysis than any other kind of learning.

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.


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