Many stories are based on the same structure

Updated: Jul 10

Everyone loves a good story. Whether it’s a shaggy dog story over a campfire, a joke at a dinner party, a poem, a song, or a memoir, and … we all have a story to tell. This has been happening for centuries. Many Indigenous cultures especially have a strong oral tradition. But what makes a good story? We all know it must have a beginning, a middle and an end, but there must also be a hero, a villain, a goal and a struggle. In fact, don’t these elements make up all stories?


Way back in 1928, a Russian scholar named Vladimir Propp studied 1000 Russian folk tales and discovered that they were all based on 31 narrative themes or ‘narratemes’, and they all had a set of eight broad character types.

Let’s look at two famous stories to see if Propp’s structure and characters can be applied in a more modern setting. The stories are Star Wars and Shrek.


star-wars is a good story

Anyway, here are Propp’s eight broad character types:

  1. Hero

  2. Helper

  3. Villain

  4. False hero

  5. Donor

  6. Dispatcher

  7. Princess

  8. Princess’s father

Not all stories contain all of these character types, so let’s have a look at Shrek and Star Wars to see how they compare:

Hero

In Shrek Shrek needs to solve the crime behind why the fairytale creatures are illegally camping outside his swamp.

In Star Wars Luke Skywalker’s mission is to save Princess Leia, discover his true parentage and save the empire.


Shrek the hero is a good story
Luke Skywalker the hero is a good story

Villain

In Shrek

Lord Farquaad cast out the fairytale creatures to Shrek’s swamp.He sends Shrek to rescue his princess from the castle and as a reward, he will give Shrek his swamp back exactly how it was.


In Star Wars

Darth Vader kills Luke’s uncle and aunt and leaves him without a family.


Lord Farquaad the villain is a good story
darth vader the villain is a good story

Princess

In Shrek

Princess Fiona is saved by Shrek from the castle, she believes he is her prince for saving her, but he tells her that Lord Farquaad will be her prince.She finds out that Shrek is an ogre.


In Star Wars

Princess Leia is rescued by Luke but as they turn out to be siblings, she ends up with Han Solo.


Princess Fiona is a good story
Princess Leia is a good story

Helper

In Shrek

Donkey and Puss accompany Shrek throughout the journey to help him rescue the princess.


In Star Wars

Han Solo, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2


Donkey is a good story
R2D2 and C3PO make a good story

Donor

In Shrek

This is not a person but a magical dragon that helps stops the wedding of Lord Farquaad and Fiona when Shrek realises he loves her.

He then finds out that she is an ogre too.


In Star Wars

Obi-Wan gives Luke the light sabre, connecting him to the force and confirming him as a Jedi warrior.


Dragon donor is a good story
Obi Wan Kenobi is a good story

False hero

In Shrek

Lord Farquaad is also the false hero because he earned the princess even though he had to get Shrek to complete the mission and save her from the castle.However, Shrek and Fiona end up in love.


In Star Wars

Han Solo assumes the role of the hero but is unable to complete the mission.


Lord Farquaad the villain is a good story
Han Solo as the false hero makes a good story

Although the stories of Shrek and Star Wars seem very different on first appearance, they have very similar character types and follow the same story arc which was discovered by Vladimir Propp in 1928.


Oh those Russians.


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