Story structure is built on fours, not on twos. Though it may seem like conflict is created between two opposing forces, there are two other forces at play as well.
Consider a dramatic circuit consisting of four elements: Potential, Resistance, Current, and Power – just like an electrical circuit.
Every scene has all four elements and if one is missing, the circuit is incomplete and the story won’t flow.
But there’s more to it than that. These four elements have a relationship that we see in many areas of life.
Here are some other sets of four that create the same kind of internal mechanism:
- Earth, Water, Wind, Fire
- Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb
- Red, Blue, Green, Brightness
- Universe, Physics, Mind, Psychology
- Mass, Energy, Space, Time
- Characters, Plot, Theme, Genre
- Motivation, Method, Evaluation, Purpose
As you can see, each group of four has a very similar feel. And the last item in each set seems a little out of place compared to the other three.
There’s an important psychological reason for that, but it would require going way too deep for this post. For now, just know that stories reflect how we think, and we think in four dimensions because we perceive four dimensions. So, it is no surprise that story structure is also based on fours, because that is the way we fully explore a topic in fiction or in life.