Narrative Structure Equivalence Chart

There are many ways to structure a story. But one theory says that they are all really saying the same thing.

Here I create a table comparing the four major narrative structures: Aristotle’s chronological structure, John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Dan Harmon’s Story Circle (the source for my “But-Fore Story Circle“), and the classic three-act play.

I’ve also included two other structures, which aren’t normally considered part of dramatic storytelling. First is something I call “MMO”, which stands for means, motive, and opportunity. This is how typically how detectives determine who is the perpetrator of a crime. Second is “Human Action”, Ludwig von Mises’s title for his treatise on economics (I wrote a one-syllable summary here); it is a theory of how basic principles of choosing can be used to explain all economic phenomena.

Chronological Hero’s Journey Story Circle Three ActsMMO (detective principles)Human Action (economic theory principles)
Beginning Call to adventure You. Need. Go. Setup Motive Prerequisites of action: felt unease about the current state of affairs, ideas about a possible better world, and a logical connection between ends sought and means required to instigate the change to get them
Middle Challenges and transformation Look. Find. Take. Confrontation Means Entrepreneurial judgment: whether the benefits of change outweigh the costs 
End Atonement and return Return. Changed. Resolution OpportunityAction: making the choices necessary to bring about the desired state of affairs: exchanging with oneself and others to alter the structure of production.