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Weaving a Complex Narrative: How to Write Like J.R.R. Tolkien in Three Easy Steps
Transcript of Weaving a Complex Narrative: How to Write Like J.R.R. Tolkien in Three Easy Steps
The Relationships Implicit in Something
What does it mean?
Other versions assert 188 or 510 steps in the Hero’s Journey.
Archetypical Cycle of Growth
The Hero’s Journey
You'll find advice on story structure ranging from formulas to archetypes.
How do you Manage Narrative Complexity?
A Pattern, Not a Formalism
WHY WEAVE A COMPLEX NARRATIVE?
How to Write Like J.R.R. Tolkien in Three Easy Steps
Weaving a Complex Narrative
Natural Story Structure
Three Acts/Actions = Story
Two Acts/Actions = Rule: "I was traveling, so I had to find a familiar restaurant and then I was able to get a sandwich."
One Act/Action = Procedure: "I was hungry so I made a sandwich."
Minimum Container for Significance
3. Go to get what you really need.
2. Go to get what you didn’t know you need.
1. Go to get what you need.
Home Improvement Guide to Story Structure
Take a Basic Shape, Move it, Rotate it, Scale it, and Repeat it
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
Lord of the Rings
WHAT IS COMPLEXITY?
“The Formula Behind Every Successful Movie”
Climax and Solution
Problem and Stakes
The first half is about questions.
The second half is about answers.
Trying to Solve the Problem
Distribute plot and character arcs in story time and space.
Break plot and character arcs into Beginnings, Middles, and Ends.
It Comes Down to Three Simple Steps:
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
Three is a Magic Number
The Goldilocks Guide to Artillery
Bump, Set, Spike (Athletic Comedy)
Straight line, Straight line, Punch line
Verse/Chorus, Verse/Chorus, Bridge/Chorus
Hero’s Fractal Journey
= 50 x 100 + 50 = 5050
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 … + 100
As a child, Gauss and his classmates were assigned to add all the numbers from 1 to 100.
Mathematician Friedrich Gauss and the Number Line
Return of the King
The Two Towers
Fellowship of the Ring
Offset Character Arcs
Lord of the Rings
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting with the Mentor
5. Crossing the Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
7. Approach to the In-most Cave
8. The Ordeal
9. The Reward
10. The Road Back
11. The Resurrection
12. Return with the Elixir
You don't want your story to look like this ...
If it should look like this.
Unless, of course, it should look like this.
Complexity isn't your goal ...
But it will be part of the picture if you want your story to reflect the world in which we live.
There are multiple versions of the Hollywood Formula. Which one is right?
It feels like writing by numbers.
By Deren Hansen
Do you know what to write for the "Belly of the Whale" and the "Ultimate Boon?
It could mean anything.
The structure of a complex thing is encoded in the underlying pattern. When you understand the pattern, what was complex becomes simple.
While the others scribbled sums on their slates, Gauss sat back and stared at the number line.
Then he wrote, 5050, and handed his slate to the teacher.
How Did Gauss Know the Answer?
He imagined the number line folded back on itself, so that every number lined up with another and the sum of each pair was 100.
Then he counted: there were 50 pairs plus the number 50 at the pivot point.
Many Things Appear in Threes:
Prior to the advent of GPS and laser designators, you had to find the range to your target by trial and error.
Think about how people tell about a non-trivial home-improvement project:
Because it's the
Like the legs of a stool, each act contributes something essential to the story.
The three-act pattern isn't only about plots and subplots. Characters have arcs with beginnings, middles, and ends.
Characters progress through the beginning, middle, and end of their individual story arcs at different times in the narrative.
It looks complex, but it's a nested series of beginnings, middles, and ends.
You may assume order is simple and chaos is complex, but to a mathematician they're both equally simple: each can be produced with a simple function.
Real complexity lies in the middle of the spectrum and involves elements of both order and chaos.
A Koch snowflake is created by taking each line segment, dividing it in thirds and replacing the center segment with two others that would form an equilateral triangle with the one they replace.
And then repeat the process.
Keep it up and you can create a figure with a finite area and an infinite perimeter.
That means, you can zoom in forever.
This ginger root is a collection of lumps with two off-shoots.
This head of Romanesco broccoli looks like it's made of smaller heads of Romanesco broccoli.
And a fern frond looks like a parade of little ferns.
You may also enjoy:
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end.
So do acts.
The Fractal Key to Narrative Complexity
A story shows how to solve a problem.
To be a story, though, we need to see a try/fail, another try/fail, and finally a try/succeed.
But each of those attempts is a story in its own right, with its own set of try/fail cycles.
And so on.
Notice how complex, with just three iterations, the protagonist's problem-solving trajectory has become?
It's kind of like real life, isn't it.
PUTTING IT ALL