Mastering the Three Act Structure - always important. Christopher Nolan, writer of "Inception" loves to actually play with it.
If you're not familiar of Christopher Nolan, check out his numerous films and you'll see why he's my favorite visual storyteller. He's particularly appealing to me for one very big reason: he knows the three act structure so well, he can actually manipulate it and / or bury it. Meaning, you're so engrossed in the story that the transition from one act to the other is seamless, fits perfectly, and leads you directly to the story's conclusion before you know it.
If you're not familiar with the three act structure, check out Robert McKee's STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.
Yeah, I know what you're saying, you're saying "Dude! I thought you were talking about fiction!" And I am - screenwriting is a different way of storytelling, that's all. McKee's book is perfectly relevant to the craft of novel writing as well.
Back to Chris Nolan (I call him "Chris". We're that close.
Anyway, Chris's stories all follow the three act structure: Act I is set up and segues to Act II via some decision that hero has to make to go on his journey. Act II is the fun stuff that occurs while on his journey and segues into Act III via some life or death decision the hero has to make to face the bad guy, and Act III is facing that bad guy. Very straightforward stuff. But Nolan does is in such a way that it's actually a PART of the story.
Case in point: Memento - a brilliant Indy film that he filmed in reverse - the three act structure in reverse, but still coming out in a standard three act structure. Inception? Smooth transitions, leading to the third act actually being the third level of sub-conscience that the hero has to enter into. By the time the films done, you actually feel as if you've floated through the act structure without even thinking of it, even if you knew to look for it. The transitions are smooth and the contents are exactly what is needed to move the story forward.
And that's the point of the three act structure: progression forward. The hero decides to go on a journey and finally needs to face something to complete the journey. It's that simple, and that should be the basis for any story you want to tell.
To see it in action, rent any Christopher Nolan film...
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