Let's Talks About Stories pt. 1
We are a collection of stories. What kind of story are we telling?
When I was in grad school,1 I took a course called “Interpreting the Hollywood Narrative.” This class was awesome. We learned a lot about the evolution of cinema over time, we watched many different examples from films and TV episodes. We analyzed themes and messages in films. We talked about No Country For Old Men every time we gathered.2
The most important takeaway from this class was being able to understand the beats of the plot that happen in the majority of popular Hollywood movies. There are many diagrams that you can find with a google search, but let’s look at this one from StudioBinder.com3
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Think about the most recent movie you watched. For me, it was Thor: Love & Thunder, and I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I won’t try to plot this movie on this chart. But whatever your movie of choice is, if it’s successful, it probably fits pretty well on this chart. There may be more plot points or obstacles as the story needs, but it will fit. Why do Hollywood films use this structure? Because it works. Filmmakers know that people resonate with this pattern. So why re-invent the wheel? Simple structures can still allow room for innovative and challenging stories, great characters, and amazing visual effects, depending on what you are looking for. But if you don’t have a good structure, your film will probably feel like a trainwreck.
This exercise of charting Hollywood plotlines introduced me to other plotlines. And one of the most important people for my research. That’s right everyone, Northrup Frye.4
Frye was a Canadian literary critic and theorist. When I began researching humor in the Bible, I started to reflect on the plot line of the whole Bible. Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, and Christopher J.H. Wright were very helpful in helping me see that the Bible is more than just 66 books composed over thousands of years. There is a story being told throughout the whole Bible. The question that I was wrestling with was this, “What kind of story is the Bible?”
This is where my man Northrup comes into the picture. I stumbled upon The Great Code and The Double Vision. These books discuss two classical plot lines that I believe shape how people see the world, the Bible, and their lives. Frye explained that in classical plays and stories there were Tragedies and Comedies.
In Tragedy, the character starts in a good place, but something happens to them, and things begin to fall apart for them. Often these crises are brought about because of their own foolishness, and the plot continues this decline until the end of the story. The character may not feel like they can change course. There is a fatalism to this kind of story. It might look like this.
Tragedies often serve as warnings to the audience. Don’t be like Llewelyn Moss, you can’t outrun the evil of this world.5 Romeo and Juliet are in love but trapped in the conflict between their families, and they both end up taking their own lives. The foolish builder wanted to build his house quickly, so he built it on the sand. When the storm came, his house was destroyed because he didn’t have a strong foundation.
The story can have more beats, and there can be rising and declining actions. But tragedies generally devolve to the point where the protagonist finds their life in shambles, their world is devastated, and they usually die at the end.
What I have noticed is that there are many people who seem to believe this is their plot line. There are many who think that the story of the Bible is telling this kind of story. They are convinced that the world is against them, God is against them, and there is no hope, so they keep following this path until their time runs out.
I hope this is not the story you find yourself telling. If it is, I hope you keep reading. Be sure to subscribe because in my next post I will talk about the comedic plot line. The similarities and differences between Tragedy and Comedy. My hope is that this will help you see that we can change the stories that we are telling, and when we change the stories we are telling, we change the way we look at the world.
This is the closest to my program. It used to be called “Master of Arts in Theology and Culture.” It was also 60 credits. But I’m not complaining. If you are looking for a good MA, I fully endorse Northwest University. Go Eagles!
Because that film is amazing.
Thanks, StudioBinder! Alyssa Maio, “The Three Act Structure,” https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/three-act-structure/, accessed August 1, 2022.
Is this too many footnotes? Anyway . . . you can read about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Frye accessed August 1, 2022.
For real, please watch No Country For Old Men.