Story structure can be a difficult beast to tame, namely because it's hard to know which structure is "best." In one ear, screenwriting gurus are telling you to follow one of a million storytelling formulas and in the other ear, naysayers are telling you to ditch formulas all together and ride your story bareback through the wilderness of unblemished narrative freedom.
The short answer: do whatever you want. Personally, I like a story structure that is easy for me to navigate so I don't get lost when adding all of the necessary elements and one that I've come across that has sated my craving for simplicity is Dan Harmon's Story Circle, which is basically a simplified version of Joseph Campbell's monomyth.
How simple is it? Well, in this video, StudioBinder broke down Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight to reveal how a seemingly complex plot can actually adhere to the "rules" of Harmon's uncomplicated 8-step story structure template. Check it out below:
The Story Circle is really easy to follow. Here's how Harmon himself breaks it down in his 8 steps:
- A character is in a zone of comfort,
- But they want something.
- They enter an unfamiliar situation,
- Adapt to it,
- Get what they wanted,
- Pay a heavy price for it,
- Then return to their familiar situation,
- Having changed.
Boom—or as Harmon puts it, "super easy shit." So many of our favorite films follow this kind of structure, from The Matrix to Star Wars, and yes, even the dense, complicated, and nutrition-rich plot of The Dark Knight. And no, you don't have to follow a structure, template, or formula to write a great story, but if your work would benefit from having one, then you might want to give the Story Circle a try.
If you want to give the Story Circle a try with your own screenplay, StudioBinder is giving away some free resources that will help you map out your stories according to its template. It includes a printable Story Circle worksheet, an online workbook, and an infographic that breaks down The Dark Knight according to each of the 8 steps. You can download it here at the bottom of the page; all you need is your email address. Now, let's all say it together: Thanks for all the free stuff, StudioBinder!