Today’s Guest is David Baboulene, a Story Development Consultant. He is also the author of The Story Book. Since first being published in 2002, David has produced two humorous books, two children’s books and an academic work on story principles. David has also had three film productions deals, two in
Hollywood and one in
and has worked as a story consultant for
film-makers, authors and script development and training
organisations. He has worked with some
big names including providing story
consultancy for Marion Pilowsky (Producer Sleuth;
Little Fish; Being Julia) and Janette Innes (writer/producer The Ghost Walker; Rain).
David is giving
seminars on story principles throughout the UK UK
in 2011 in collaboration with The Script Factory, Euroscript and other partner
companies. David writes extensively on his subject, including his monthly
column in Writing
Magazine and Writers' News. He lives
in sunny Brighton in the Los Angeles with his wife and four children. UK
The Essential Components of Stories By David Baboulene
In the next two weeks I’m going to look at the essential components - what I call the Framework Elements - that are the vehicle for the characters, action, conflict, turning points and so on that tend to get talked about more often. What is it that gives a story its fundamental existence, as distinct from its content? We will look at the two things that define all stories: this post: Narrative Structure, next post: Character Growth.
All stories have a narrative structure that is a consequence of:
1) The events that comprise your story
2) The order in which you deliver them.
And if you’re going to get right down into it, the words you choose to describe these events and the order of those words.
Essentially, this is the telling of your story. Of course, a narrative structure is unavoidable (all stories have an organised ‘telling’), and most (but certainly not all) can be labelled using Aristotle’s key elements that have characterised most stories for around 2,300 years. Firstly, we have the Harmartia - a ‘fault’ or ‘flaw’ that disturbs the protagonist’s balance of life. Secondly, the anagnorisis - the ‘realisation’ of what this flaw means to the protagonist that leads to him or her taking action to restore balance. And thirdly, the peripeteia - a reversal of expectation that pays off the story in an interesting way and brings the world back into balance at conclusion.
Aristotle always related his elements to the protagonist, and I find this a lot more helpful than the contemporary focus on structure through plot, which looks like this: an act l setup leads to an inciting incident that raises a key question in the mind of the audience. That key question is then addressed satisfactorily at climax.
So, taking Back to the Future as my example story, can we identify these factors?
Marty McFly is going about his normal day (setup) when he is accidentally sent back in time (Harmartia - a mistake which spins his world out of balance). In modern terms, this is also the inciting incident, raising the key question in the mind of the audience: ‘Will Marty get back to 1985? How?’
As he comes to terms with the challenges of getting home, he realises (anagnorisis) that he has no nuclear fuel in 1955 to power the time machine, that he has interfered with his future-parents’ meeting, that his mother is in love with him instead of his dad, and that unless he can get his parents back on track he is not going to exist in the future.
The key question raised is addressed by the action at climax (Yes, he got back to 1985. He did it by harnessing the power of a bolt of lightning) and the peripeteia (reversal) comes at resolution when we realise that, far from wiping him from existence, his actions and experiences mean he returns to is a better life in the ‘new’ 1985 than the one he left in the first place.
Why is this important? Well, in a full length work, the narrative structure provides the framework plotline that orientates the audience for the long haul and provides direction for the story, setting its widest arc. Critically, having the framework plotline in this form means that, from the moment the key question is in our mind, we absorb every story event in the context of the implications for the protagonist’s progress in the framework plot. So, for example, in Back to the Future, the subplot in which George overcomes the bully with a single punch may be engaging in itself, but part of our brain is frantically calculating what this means for Marty’s chances of a return to 1985, giving this subplot event a whole third dimension. This relationship between story events and their impact on separate plot-lines is a critical form of subtext and a powerful tool in the armory of all writers.
Now, it is worth nothing that, firstly, most subplots also carry their own narrative structure; and secondly, that a narrative structure like this is not compulsory. Structure of this nature is very, very common, but it is not a rule base. However, stories that do not follow this classic narrative structure will certainly feature the second essential framework element - character growth - which we will look at in my next post.
In the meantime, look for the narrative structure in the stories you read and watch. Quote Aristotle so people think you are edgakated, and if you are interested in learning more about this - or any other - aspect of story theory, drop me a line and I will send you a free chapter from The Story Book on the subject of your choice.
David’s website http://www.baboulene.com
David’s Blog http://thescienceofstory.blogspot.com
Details of David’s Tour Page http://uk-and-beyond-book-tours.com/?p=232
The Giveaway (two copies of The Story Book) is open to all my followers (old or new). The more you spread the word, the more chances you get to win. I will draw and announce the winners on Tuesday 29th (
To enter: be a follower and leave a comment on this post, email not necessary. If you want extra chances to win please also include the links where you've spread the word.
After I announce the two winners you can send me your email address and your preference: whether you would like the Ebook format or the Kindle format of The Story Book, which will be sent to you.
Thank you, David, for the guest post. Cheers, everyone.