I decided to look for Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’ on Google and then found this video on Youtube. I found it really helpful and made me understand the concept of story structure.
Here is a simplified breakdown of this structure with a very basic ‘cat sat on the mat’ story added for example:
I decided to consider the plot structure by recreating my own story structure by watching a film and labeling the beginning, middle, and end and finding the status, trigger, quest, surprise, critical choice/reaction, climax, reversal, and resolution.
The Film: Hereditary
Please see the trailer below: (Trigger Warning: Horror Movie and details below)
BEGINNING: Family gets ready for grandmother’s funeral
Status: Peter is invited to a house party and Annie (mum) asks for him to take his younger sister Charlie
Trigger: Peter tells Charlie to stay downstairs and ask for a slice of cake as the other people are eating it at the party, so Peter can go and get high with his friends in another room.
Quest: Charlie eats the chocolate cake, not realising there are nuts in it. (she has a nut allergy) Peter finds out and starts driving her to the hospital.
MIDDLE: He drives really fast, and swerves around roadkill.
Surprise: Charlie (who has her head out the window trying to breathe) hits her head on an electricity post and gets decapitated.
Critical choice/reaction: Peter realises what has just happened and screeches the car to a halt. He sits there still for a while traumatized and then moves the car slowly on. He drives home.
Climax: The scene cuts to Peter laying down in bed with his eyes wide open, the sun rises and Annie says goodbye to her husband before going to the car, and suddenly screams once she figures out Charlie’s decapitated body is still in the back of the car.
END: Annie crying hysterically/ Charlie’s funeral and wake takes place.
Reversal: Family life seems to go back to a new ‘normal’ after Charlie’s death.
Resolution: Annie struggles with acceptance, and sleeps in Charlie’s cabin.
BEGINNING: Annie goes to grief therapy.
Status: Annie meets ‘Joan’ for the first time at grief counseling, Joan explains she is there as her grandson died. They now have a connection.
Trigger: Annie sees Joan again outside a store. (funny coincidence).
Quest: Joan asks Annie to come over as she has just been able to make contact with her Grandson through a seance.
MIDDLE: Annie goes to Joan’s house and Joan show’s how she communicates with her Grandson and gives Annie the instructions to conjure up her daughter Charlie.
Surprise: The scene cuts to Annie at night reading out the incantations to conjure up Charlie. Annie realises that Charlie’s sketchbook is connected to Charlie. As she feels like she’s made a mistake conjuring her up, she tries to burn the sketchbook but notices her arms starts to burn as the sketchbook has now connected to her.
Critical choice/reaction: Annie asks her husband to burn the book thinking she has to sacrifice herself to stop the curse. The husband says he isn’t going to burn the book so Annie panics and throws it in. The husband bursts into flames as the sketchbook is not connected to him.
Climax: Annie looks in horror as her husband burns, suddenly her face changes from horror to numbness as she gets possessed.
END: Peter wakes up in a dark house, he calls for his mum and dad but no one answers. He goes downstairs where Annie is floating on the ceiling. Suddenly Annie jumps at him and they start a chase. Peter runs up into the attic and Annie manically and demonically bangs her head (upside down!!) on the attic door.
Reversal: The banging stops, then Peter stares up into the roof of the attic in the corner and finds his mother’s body floating cutting her head off with a cheese wire.
Resolution: Peter runs and jumps out the window and lands in the garden. The soul that was in Annie has now been transferred to Peter.
What I found really interesting about this study was that this movie actually had 2 story structures in total! The movie is really complex with a lot of different parts so it’s interesting to see the reason behind why it was so complicated.
The Hero’s Journey according to Joseph Campbell – video by Matthew Winkler and Kirill Yeretsky