If you analyze The Lion King, you will find Hamlet plus this same underlying structure. An evil uncle murders his brother, steals his kingdom and queen, and tries to prevent his nephew, the rightful heir, from assuming the throne. The change of time and place and a change from human to animal do not affect the meaning of the story. They just make it more accessible to children.
The underlying motifs of this basic universal story structure are adaptable to any age or time and can be redressed as a hundred different metaphors, depending on the audience you're trying to reach.
Using these same underlying structures, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique London for his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Dashell Hamett created a San Francisco unlike any other, and William Faulkner created Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi – a world that was uniquely his own.
In short, given a well-constructed and well-told story, the surest way to success is a brilliant and unique metaphor – i.e. you are only as good as the metaphor you create – the new life you breath into the underlying structure. If you can find your own, unique and original world, there will be no stopping you. You will create your own Harry Potter, Godfather, Michael Clayton, or Milk.
My next two articles will be about Genre and Narrative Structure – two other
important dimensions that play a critical role in making the great stories that ride
upon the underlying, universal structure appear different and unique. The genre
governs the plots and subplots, the emotional adventure, and the entertainment
values of the story and arise when you focus on certain dominant qualities or
dimensions. The Narrative Structure governs how the story is told – the arrangement of the incidents, the sequence of events, the emphasis each dimension or quality is given – the central event, central character and central action that comprise the focus of the story and the various points of view by which the events of the story are perceived. This creates clarity and meaning and also power and magic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *James Bonnet, www.storymaking.com, is an internationally known writer, teacher and story consultant. He was elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writer's Guild of America and has written or acted in more than forty television shows and features. The radical new ideas about story in his book Stealing Fire from the Gods: A Complete Guide to Story For Writers And Filmmakers are having a major impact on writers in all media. His next seven day workshop/retreats in France will be May 24-30 and September 13-19. His next weekend seminar in Los Angeles will be October 10-11.