No matter whether we read books or newspapers, watch movies or TV shows, or hear someone trying to persuade us … stories are all around us. That’s the thought that lingered in my mind after attending an engaging storytelling workshop a few days ago. And I thought it would be interesting to share some of the knowledge I gained, especially because storytelling is the foundation of all stories we read in books.
One of the most exciting insights for me was learning to look at a story from a structural point of view. I know it might sound confusing, so I’ll explain it using the metaphor that was discussed at the workshop. The structure of a story is just like the resistance structure of buildings: it is not visible from the outside, and you might not even realize it exists … but it actually constitutes the basic building blocks that are later “covered” by the beautiful eye-catching exterior.
One example of such structure is the Hero’s Journey studied by Joseph Campbell in the 1940s. Campbell himself described this structure as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”.
This structure can be identified in a wide range of stories, including classic stories (e.g. The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland) and more recent ones (e.g. Harry Potter, Finding Nemo, Lord of the Rings). For more hands-on explanations of the journey steps, check out this cool visual explanation of how 6 popular movies follow the Hero’s Journey!
Another eye-opening piece of information was that most stories fit into one of 5 categories, briefly characterized as follows:
- adventure – that’s the classic adventure story, e.g. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter
- love – when two characters are in love but they cannot be together, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, Titanic, Me Before You
- the stranger – when the main character finds himself in an unknown world, e.g. Avatar, The Intern
- prince and pauper – when the character goes from one extreme to the other, e.g. The Prince and the Pauper, Pretty Woman
- revenge – the main character looks for vengeance, e.g. Hamlet, Gone Girl
Being explained these theoretical aspects of storytelling that pleased my geeky soul, I realized that being aware of the 5 archetypes might help me have a better understanding of the whole story I’m reading or watching. There’s something exciting in recognizing theoretical aspects put into practice when discovering a new story … or is it just me?!
When it comes to written stories, I find it very interesting to read them not only for the beauty of the story, but go a step further and discover the inner structures and elements used by writers … they might not be visible from the start, but with time I hope to learn how to uncover the different means writers play with to create meaningful reading experiences.
I hope this post sparked your interest in storytelling! If you would like to share your thoughts about what I wrote, I’ll be happy to read your comments and discuss with you!
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: Most of the content of this post was inspired by what was discussed during the storytelling workshop I attended. It was delivered by Dragoș Bucurenci from Khastalia, and it was a thought-provoking and hands-on workshop, I loved it!