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  • Structures Of Narrative: An Introduction

    - Gregory Pellechi

  • In Halo, that's the knowledge the Flood's release brings a pending doom to the galaxy at large. The game switches from being about personal survival to being about the greater good. And all of that is placed upon the cybernetically-enhanced shoulders of Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana. What makes this form so appealing for the heroic struggle faced by the Master Chief, aside from the inherent power fantasy the game provides is the fact that we in the West have largely been exposed to this structure throughout our live. The chiastic structure is common throughout holy-texts such as the Hebrew Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon. It's also found in Beowulf and Paradise Lost.

    It's also why the ending of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is so long - each storyline and element is being returned to and tied up. But where Halo was a descent followed by ascent, Lord of the Rings is about the ascent of Mt. Doom and then the descent and return to the Shire.

    The chiastic structure like the aforementioned frame story and epistolary story does not need to work in isolation. It can readily work with these other structures. Such that it could readily be argued that any frame story makes use of the chiastic structure given it starts with one setting, A, switches to the internal story B, and ends with the original setting A. The same is true for epistolary stories, as they allow for the repetitive or mirroring nature of the chiastic structure to also be used. Letters back and forth between two characters are ideal, depending upon your story and game, for such a structure as the first and final letter can be what prompts and summarizes the events of the story. They don't even have to come from the player character either.

    A final name for the chiastic structure is ring structure, because of the return to beginning. And in some ways this very much mimics the hero's journey. But we'll get more into the hero's journey and Dan Harmon's story circle in a future episode. As is there are plenty of videos about that very topic already, we'll just look at how they apply to games.

    The Ring Structure

    Not to be confused with the chiastic structure. As mentioned we won't spend much time on this given it's worthy of its own episode.

    But it should be noted that whereas the chiastic structure requires a certain amount of repetition or mirroring of subjects, themes, locations, ideas or plots the ring structure does not. A character can go on this journey and return to the world changed and that change can mean they're in a different place - unable to return to their original location - but their situation has been resolved, their problem overcome. From a game design perspective the ring structure doesn't require a return to previous levels, merely a resetting of the status quo which so readily enables a sequel. It's part of why this structure is so appealing, it's simple in its nature.

    Problem occurs changing status quo, player tackles problem, status quo returns.

    This works for alien invasions, zombie infestations, war simulations, and plenty of other conflict-defined narratives in video games. And it should come as no surprise then that as with the previous three structures - frame stories, epistolary stories, chiastic structures - the ring structure can work with any and all of its counterparts as long as the status quo is returned to.

    And with that we return to the status quo. All of us writing and not just procrastinating by watching this show.

    [Thanks for taking part in this episode of The Writing Game, I'm Gregory Pellechi. Everything I do can be found at and I can be reached there or on Twitte @OneGameDad if you want to talk writing, games, this show or even working together.]


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