What's in a Story? #5

By Diane Brooks

Published: 2020-05-05

Every day, people are presented with problems… and opportunities.

When there is a will to address a problem, or seize an opportunity, here begins the start of a story.

The story of change.

The story of change is an ancient one, and it can be seen effortlessly in the time-honoured three-act structure of a play.

The three-act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution.

I’ve heard it also described like this:

Get your hero up a tree.
Throw rocks at them.
Get them down.

For individuals or organizations who are writing their own stories of change, they must ask themselves three questions in order to fully realize the three acts.

What is the problem (or opportunity) being presented? (Act1)
What’s my goal — how do I want this to end? (Act 3)
How do I get there? (Act 2)

The answer to our Act 1 question must be fully fleshed out in order for Act 3 to be written. Once you know what you are trying to achieve and what the end goal really looks like can you truly determine how Act 2 can get you there.

Stories are rarely written in a straight line.

Yes, only with Act 3 in mind can you start to determine your path… what kind of tree are you in? What kind of rocks are being thrown?

Determining how you reach Act 3 means laying out the 100 or 100,000 things that need to be done in order to get to the end. Which characters will be making these actions, in what order do they occur, and during exactly what scene?

There’s a reason Act 2 is called the Confrontation and is described as being hit by rocks… this part is usually the hardest. Because this part encompasses the most change.

In a real play, once the outline for Act 2 is written, it needs to be shared. With a lot of people. Actors, lighting designers, costume designers, marketing departments, etc. Everyone needs to be on board and on the same page. The same can be said for a large family decision or a new tech implementation following a business acquisition. Everyone who is impacted needs to be informed.

And each of these characters will bring their own stories to the table. The details of their own stories may be injected into the one you’re writing. Perhaps their details spark a swerve in the direction, for better or for worse.

The sharing continues as each of the outline components gets further developed and detailed, or something changes, or is delayed. The sharing becomes critical.

Imagine you changed an actors script and didn’t tell them before they got on stage!

This doesn’t mean you should be resistant to change though — on the contrary. Act 2 will grow and change daily, getting written and rewritten many times over the course of its execution, which can take weeks, months, or even years.

While up in your tree you’ll be hit with rocks, storms may roll in bringing clouds that hinder your vision, you could get attacked by a squirrel or spooked by a passing bird. These are challenges we signed up for, because we signed up for change.

These swerves may happen frequently and demand a quick rewrite of the script as you go, so that you stay on track to line up with Act 3 in the end. And remember, this carefully planned and orchestrated Act 2, with all of its many moving parts, will not end as envisioned unless everyone is always on the same page, working on the same plan, towards the same goal.

And every so often, don’t forget to raise your hand and shield your eyes from the sun, way up there in your tree. Take in the ever-modulating, unpredictable world down there below you, take in the landscape and ensure it hasn’t changed your view of the final act — where you inevitably want to end up.

Once written, Act 1 and Act 3 will likely go unchanged, for the most part. However, periodic reviews of the “raison d’être” are required to re-confirm that Act 1 still holds.

Act 2, however, is written and rewritten, right up to the moment that Act 3 — the Resolution — is achieved. Only then is the story complete.

And what about the end of the story?

What happens after that new business is launched?
What happens once that artist tries a new technique?
What happens once that family decides to move?
What happens when you finally get down from your tree?

What happens to each of the characters, once they have read the last word of the last sentence of the last page of that play?

Well... I think there’s a story there, too.


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