The importance of story structure

Ana Ilievska
Customer Success Manager

As human beings, we are naturally drawn to stories. We love to hear, read, and watch stories unfold. Storytelling has been a fundamental part of human culture since the beginning of time, and it continues to captivate us to this day. But why do some stories catch our attention while others fall flat?

Writing a compelling story requires a solid understanding of story structure and story elements to create the most emotional, thought provoking and immersive stories that keep everyone engaged.

“Some see this craving for story as simple entertainment, an escape from life rather than an exploration of it. But what, after all, is entertainment? To be entertained is to be immersed in the ceremony of story to an intellectually and emotionally satisfying end.” - Story, Robert McKee.

The three-act structure

One of the most well-known and widely used story structures is the three-act structure, as described by Syd Field in the book Screenplay. According to Field, a story should be divided into three acts: setup, confrontation, and resolution.

The three-act structure is not only applicable to screenwriting but also to novels, short stories, and any other type of storytelling, such as VR training. It provides a clear and concise framework to build a story around and ensures that the story has a beginning, middle, and end.

Act one: setup

In the first act, the audience is introduced to the protagonist (main character), other characters, setting, and overall story idea. The main point of this act is to establish the protagonist's goals and motivations, introduce the conflict, and set up the story's world (dramatic premise).

During this act, the protagonist is typically presented with a problem or challenge. This can be a personal struggle or an external conflict. The audience learns about the stakes of the story and what is at risk if the protagonist fails to achieve their goal.

Defining the character and setting a dramatic premise are the subject of the story because a writer must know who their story is about and what happens to this character. It is a primary principle in all forms of writing.

In the movie industry, the screenwriter has to establish the set up in the first 10 minutes of the movie because the audience members can usually determine, either consciously or unconsciously, whether they do or don't like the movie by that time. That means the set up needs to be short and clear, so the audience can easily understand what the story is about, relate to it and get engaged at the same time. This is why the set up is “the most important part of the story”, as Syd claims in his book.

Act two: confrontation

The second act is the confrontation. It is the midpoint of the story where the protagonist experiences revelation or faces obstacles and challenges that change the course of the story and hinder their progress towards their goal. Therefore, they face internal conflicts and must make difficult choices that push them towards their ultimate goal. This is where the story begins to build towards the climax.

During this second act the main character is kept from achieving their dramatic need which is defined as what the character wants to win, gain or achieve during the course of the story. If you know your character's dramatic need, you can create obstacles on their way to it and then the story becomes the character. It is the writer's responsibility to generate enough conflict to keep the audience interested and engaged.

Act three: resolution

The third and final act is the resolution which ties up all loose ends and provides closure to the story. This is where the story reaches its climax and the protagonist faces their final challenge. The protagonist must use everything they have learned and overcome obstacles to achieve their goal. Once reaching resolution, the protagonist comes to a new understanding of themselves and the world around them.

It's important to remember that resolution does not mean an ending. It means solution of the conflicts presented in the second act. Ending is that specific scene that ends the script, but resolution doesn’t necessarily need to be the end of the story.

In between each act, a plot point is needed, defined as any incident, episode, or event happening in each act that spins the story in another direction.

Inciting incident

The inciting incident is the event that sets the story in motion. It is the moment where the protagonist's life changes, and they are forced to make a decision that will drive the rest of the story. This incident occurs to the protagonist in the first act which moves the story to a plot point.

Plot points

Plot points are significant events that occur throughout the screenplay, driving the story forward. According to Syd Field, there are two main plot points in a screenplay. The first plot point is the point of no return for the protagonist. It is the moment where they must make a significant decision due to the inciting incident and commit to their journey.

The second plot point occurs towards the end of the second act and is the climax of the story. It is the moment where the protagonist faces their greatest challenge and must overcome it to achieve their goal. The second plot point is the culmination of everything that has happened in the story so far, and it sets up the resolution of the story.

Story structure in VR training

The three-act structure is a powerful tool for storytellers. It provides a framework for creating engaging and compelling stories, and it has been used by countless writers and filmmakers throughout history.

Following this example, we created a story writing worksheet  that should help you create the perfect story outline for any immersive training. It includes learning goals, defining the main character (player) of the training, other characters, motivations, conflicts and obstacles, consequences, successful and failed endings, and much more.

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