Finding good resources for explaining movie dramatic structures
May 29, 2013 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Recently I was reading a book by Joseph Campbell called "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" which goes into how the "mono-myth" pattern serves as the underlying structure for most Western movies (think Star Wars, The Matrix, ...). I would love to learn more about alternative story arcs and dramatic structures (like the famous three-act structure), with examples from famous films. Any comprehensive resources, blogs, articles, anything?
posted by omar.a to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:29 AM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

You may have heard of Robert McKee in the film ADAPTATION. Whatever you think of his seminars, his book "Story" does a better job of explaining structure than anyone else I know of.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Save The Cat
posted by philip-random at 11:41 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Btw, I think you're talking about two slightly different things. Campbell's ideas about the hero and monomyth are more of a method of story analysis or a way of thinking about stories (though it does touch on structure).

McKee gives you more of the nitty-gritty of "this is what happens in act one, two, and three, here are some examples from great movies, here's why these principles of storytelling that get derided as 'Hollywood formula' have existed and worked since they were first described by Aristotle in 'Poetics.'"
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:41 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I'm getting at is that almost every narrative film has a three act structure, which the writer purposely thought about and set out to create. As far as I know most writers don't sit down and say, "today I'm going to create a monomyth instance."

It's more a way of thinking about stories created with basic storytelling principles (a protagonist who has a need or goal, faces obstacles, and either does or does not achieve what he set out to do.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:45 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy reading about the theory behind the Dramatica software. The original 350-page book that lays out this theory can be read online for free.
posted by kindall at 11:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also Dan Harmon.

Dramatica I've got some interesting ideas from, but sometimes it feels like they're trying to indoctrinate me into a cult.
posted by RobotHero at 11:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, everybody. Thank you so much for these wonderful resources.
posted by omar.a at 12:28 PM on May 29, 2013

Hey Omar, I think the most stimulating thing I have read on this stuff lately is The Myth of 3-Act Structure by Film Crit Hulk. You should check it out, it turned me onto Shakespeare's Five Act Structure in a way that I didn't understand when we read Romeo & Juliet in 9th grade.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think finding the "monomyth" in Star Wars is like finding Freudian themes in Hamlet.....Lucas was specifically influenced by Campbell's book, and he consciously used it in his narrative.
posted by thelonius at 1:35 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as I know most writers don't sit down and say, "today I'm going to create a monomyth instance."

It's funny you say that, because there's a book out there for screenwriters who do think that way, or at least screenwriters who want to think about how the Hero's Journey/monomyth can apply to their writing during the screenwriting process.

That said, it's very true that the Hero's Journey is not all that useful for figuring out how to write a screenplay. Three Act structure gets talked about much more because it is sort of a blueprint you can use as opposed to a way of analyzing already existing stories. Also, all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end even if you want to also use other ways of structuring or examining them.

I've also heard tell of an eight "sequence" structure, which I think is Save The Cat's big gimmick?
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on May 29, 2013

The perenially-linked-by-me Matt Bird has done a massive amount of work with narrative structure. His Great Guru Showdown series stacks Campbell next to Aristotle next to Hegel next to Blake "Save the Cat" Snyder and a half dozen other structural theorists for comparison. Here's the resulting chart.

If you're morbidly curious, check out the theory behind the Dramatica story writing program. There are some unique and possibly useful ideas in there, but the authors' drive for a totalizing theory of narrative pushes the project toward Timecube levels of fractal insanity.
posted by Iridic at 1:59 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for all your wonderful links. I'm going to read every single one of them.
posted by omar.a at 3:48 PM on May 29, 2013

nthing tvtropes it is amazing. warning: remember to eat and use the bathroom
posted by lalochezia at 12:18 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

The book lots of people are raving about just now is John Yorke's Into the Woods. Here's a recent piece he did for the Guardian, 'What makes a great screenplay?'.
posted by davemack at 1:41 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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