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The three act structure

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Firekeeper, Dec 22, 2013.

  1. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    I think the "going on a journey" and what happens on it (character-wise) template has been around for thousands of years. I think Tolkien et al used a version of that.

    What we call "hero's journey" has come to be identified with Campbell's steps, which I think is only a small part of the larger template.
     
  2. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Honestly, I think we're misapplying Campbell if we match his "Leave, Travel, Return" to the 3 acts.

    The third act is the final buildup cycle and climax, often a fourth of the story (especially in Syd Field movie analysis). In Campbell the Return is usually after the climax: the dragon is slain and unlike The Hobbit that pretty much ends the action, what's left is the hero bringing the treasure back and seeing how it changes life in the village he left. It's the celebration, and the Lesson Learned.

    --Or the Return could be the whole third act. It might make more narrative sense to say the real enemy is bearing down on the hero's hometown (or was hiding there all along) and so the third act is reconciling the lessons of the second (the time away) with the demands of home. Such as, convincing your neighbors to start fighting back after all. This makes a great arc for a third act, playing up that "getting the elixir" on an adventure wouldn't in itself convince Normal Folk to accept it. But only some modern stories do that; very few classic ones do.

    More often, the third act is the last leg of the journey (or the trials at the far end of it), with the Return tacked on at the end.

    Edit: also, I wouldn't match the first act with the Departure too often either. The hero's more likely to begin his journey (physically or otherwise) only partway through the first act; the act's end is when he faces the first challenge to really change him. (Eg in The Hobbit again, trolls.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2014
  3. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    You absolutely can apply hero's journey to three acts. It's done in movies all the time.
     
  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Has anyone considered that some perfectly solid stories may not fit the traditional "Hero's Journey" model of story structure? Take Jurassic Park and King Kong for example. While both definitely have a lot of conflict in them, neither of them is really about a central hero overcoming the odds against a central antagonist. What these narratives share instead are core themes that the stories were designed to articulate. In Jurassic Park, it's that we shouldn't try to control over things we don't fully understand. In King Kong, it's either that beauty can kill the beast or that humanity's greed is the real monster depending on which iteration you watch. Given this, I'd argue that communicating a clear theme can do just as many wonders for structuring stories as any Hero's Journey conventions.
     
  5. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Sorry if I wasn't clear. Three acts fit very well with Hero's Journey; what I meant was that the Departure, Journey and Return aspects of it don't usually match the three acts, the Journey takes up much of the first and last acts as well as the middle. The acts split by dramatic buildup more than by location.

    Jabrosky, it's true, some stories are less Campbell than others, and they all get to make their own themes. Hero's Journey is the kind of tool we should use by degrees, rather than build to fit the "great fantasy movie template of sameness" approach.
     
  6. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    Both of these movies are hero's journey. For example, both cross First Thresholds into New Worlds.

    "central hero overcoming the odds against a central antagonist" is only a narrow interpretation of what hero's journey is.

    Theme is always part of hero's journey. Star Wars and Matrix both have themes.

    That's a contradiction, because hero's journey is departure, journey and return. You're just breaking into the acts in the wrong places.

    So many different stories use hero's journey that this argument of "sameness" doesn't apply.
     
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