Robert Carlson’s Ultimate Story Structure Chart

This shouldn’t be lost.

Robert Carlson created a summary chart of thirteen (13) story structure overviews. Here’s his diagram (saved from a comment at reddit).

Across the top, note the Act I, Act II (parts A and B), and Act III divisions. Squinting at the chart so the details blur, I can spot four structures with those same three parts. Act I is Syd Field’s “Set-Up” which George Lucas calls “Introduce the Characters.” Billy Wilder gives it the figurative title of “Put a character up in a tree,” while Alfred Hitchcock plays summarize that as simply the “Proposition.”

My favorite, the Seven Point system, isn’t included by name, but it is almost the same as that from Nigel Watts, the third contributor in the left-most column. Nigel divides the “Resolution” in the Seven Point system into two parts, “Reversal” and “Resolution” whereas the Seven Point system calls it merely, “Resolution.” I agree that Act III does need to be divided but “Reversal” is, in my opinion, the wrong word. I would’ve preferred something like “Preparation” to suggest the protagonist is getting ready to make his final assault on the bad guy.

And none of these structures include what I now think of as the eighth point in the Seven Point system. It comes first, often in the first page, first paragraph, and sometimes the first sentence of a novel. It is a Trigger Event that precipitates everything that follows. Rather than a somewhat leisurely exploration of the “Ordinary World” of the protagonist, many recent works–books and, in particular, movies–start with a bang! Some event, perhaps a grisly murder, a crafty theft, or the arrival of an unknown craft from deep space, transforms the setting. We may see the remnants of what was that “Ordinary World,” but we recognize the future will be different.

Regardless, for students and practitioners of the craft of story-making, this summary chart is a marvelous creation. I tip my hat to Robert Carlson where ever he may be in the universe.

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