structures, 2

I don’t know what it means to invent a structure; it’s really more like a pattern, like sequences and patterns found in mathematics. The numbers were there all along — you just pointed out an interesting way to look at them.

In my last post I linked to a blog post containing a very large list of worldwide story structures, and in this one I think I’m going to talk about a couple ‘new’ structures I’ve noticed.

world – conflict – world unchanged

  1. Describe the world. (My preference is an auspicious setting full of variety and possibility.)
  2. Tell a story of struggle, perhaps using another story structure, but in particular I suppose you can use this structure to tell a story that doesn’t have a satisfying ending.
  3. Describe the world again, unchanged.

I first realized that this pattern (this story structure, or we may say narrative structure or whatever) is present in the classic roguelike; an individual run may be an unsatisfying and incomplete story, but I find there’s something comforting about having the unchanging world full of possibility always there waiting to efface all my efforts, for better or for worse.

I also noticed it in the Jabberwocky! The first and last stanzas are identical.

And finally, it’s been pointed out to me by others in Paradise that episodic TV shows in general often take this format as well, opening and closing on the same world. So this is definitely not a new idea, but I haven’t seen it described through the lens of a story structure, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

secret – misunderstanding – reveal

(in particular regarding character motivations but could be applied to other things)

I’ve been watching .hack//SIGN slowly, and I noticed this pattern used quite clearly in a few places; the thing that interests me the most about it is that the plot revolves heavily around a small cast of characters with different and pretty obfuscated motivations, and “Why are they even playing this game?” is tied in to those motivations.

(.hack//SIGN is set inside a fictional MMO, and all the characters are just virtual avatars played by people outside The World, though you never see them and they rarely say anything about their real lives.)

Anyway, the structure goes something like this (I noticed it most clearly in episode 7, in which a minor character’s secret-misunderstanding-reveal arc happens rapidly over the course of the single episode).

  1. Someone’s actions or statements are questioned, and they do not reveal their motivations.
  2. There is a misunderstanding. (With or without consequences.)
  3. They reveal their motivations. (Or not.) (And, not necessarily as a result of the misunderstanding.)

This is a really, really simple ‘structure,’ and I expect it’s pretty much analogous to the way any sort of mystery should go — there’s something unknown, you don’t understand something because you don’t know it, then you learn it, wow.

custom structure for custom brain

But it’s nice to build these little tools for myself. I rarely have any sort of attachment to the structures built by other people, for whatever reason, and these ones I’ve ‘invented’ or ‘noticed’ myself are tied to personal moments of inspiration, and media that’s close to my heart.

I’ve never been particularly interested in mysteries in general, but going in the other direction, I like the idea of applying this ‘secret-misunderstanding-reveal’ character motivation structure to some other type of mystery. It’s anchored in my mind to .hack//SIGN, to the one-episode arc of A-20.

And maybe somewhere down the line these two will hold a special place in my heart as ‘the first two story structures I ever cobbled together for myself, bespoke’ of tens or hundreds of little fragments that come together as my personal language through which I appreciate storycraft.