Exploring the Story Network I

Structural Links
Structural Links
Understanding story structure involves different stages of learning. The first stage is to identify, name, and understand the function of each narrative component. We learn that a turning point, for example, spins the story in a different direction, and we learn that in a typical story there are two such turning points. But looking at individual elements in this way provides us with a static picture. It tells us what the elements do, and where they occur, individually, but not how they interact with each other to produce a cohesive and dynamic narrative. This is very much a case of the sum of the parts being less than the whole: we cannot unlock the full meaning of a text unless we trace the links between the narrative elements, understand that they form a network, and explore how that network functions. Individual structural units, seen in isolation, therefore, surrender less information than they do when studied as a network. The following series of posts tries to remedy this situation by exploring these important interrelationships, starting with the inciting incident and the first tuning point. For the purposes of this post, the typical starting point – the ordinary world – is treated as given.

The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident, we are reminded, is an event that gets the story rolling. It usually occurs after the ordinary world of the Hero has been established and takes the form of a disturbance to the status quo of this world. The inciting incident is often mistaken as the start of the story, precisely because it jump-starts the tale by relating its first significant event. In media res beginnings, the inciting incident replaces the introduction to the ordinary world, injecting a sense of excitement and urgency at the start of the story at the expense of context.

The First Turning Point

The first turning point is the true start of the story because it presents new information which forces the Hero to respond to a challenge, opportunity, or threat, hatch a plan, and embark on a series of actions to implement this plan which affect the entire story. It differs from the inciting incident in that it introduces information that spins the story in a different direction than that suggested by the inciting incident.

Inciting Incident and the First Turning Point: First Link in the Network

The relationship of the inciting incident to the first turning point, is, therefore, one of deviation resulting from a surprising and unexpected change – a rotation, or alteration to the path initiated by the inciting incident. One can only understand the inciting incident, therefore, by relating it to the ordinary world before it, and the first turning point ahead of it, just as one can only understand the first turning point in relation to the inciting incident and the structural nodes ahead of it – but more of that in next week’s post.

Summary

Understanding structure relies not only on an understanding of discreet structural units, but of the links that exist between them. Each structural node exists in a dynamic relationship to the other nodes in the narrative network and can, therefore, only be understood in relation to the overall network.

Invitation

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

2 thoughts on “Exploring the Story Network I”

  1. Very timely post–last night I finished the first quartile draft of my first novel! After doing so, I revisited a feeling that the turning point in the story isn’t what I originally structured it to be. The first quartile clocked in at 40k words which indicates a first draft book length of 160k. Yikes, definitely not what I intended! But to be fair, the story does need some wordage to be told correctly, so 120k is where I’d like it to be.

    I’ve studied story structure quite a bit and it was surprised when the 1st turning point wasn’t what I originally thought. There are two inciting incidents. The second, real inciting incident does more than knocking down my hero’s house of cards, it obliterates them with a tactical nuke. (Figuratively, that’s not the actual plot element 😉

    The turning point in the story has all the hallmarks of one, except that it’s not an event with action. It’s a whisper or a butterfly’s wing-beat that has compounding effects. Perhaps the final indicator that this event was the true first turning point is how the hero undeniably ceases to be an Orphan and becomes a Wanderer.

    I was going to send you an e-mail about this, but I thought it might make for a good conversation starter. What are your thoughts on a soft, don’t blink or you’ll miss it, first turning point in stories?

    1. Hi Mark. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. The turning point changes the story by injecting new information of a significant nature; this information may come from within or without the character – an outer or inner event. Its import need not, necessarily, be immediately apparent – its significance may indeed be that of the “butterfly effect”, a permeative effect, seen introspectively. Typically, however, the turning point is palpably felt as a change of direction in the twin journeys of the Hero – the outer and inner levels.

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