Pity, Fear, Catharsis – the essence of storytelling #writing

It’s strange and not a little sobering to appreciate just how much Aristotle got right, 2,500 years ago.

The essence of storytelling, he tells us, is three simple but essential concepts:

  • Pity – (we might say empathy) first of all, we must make the audience feel for and care about the central character
  • Fear – Next, we must put the character in a position where we fear for them, “an undeserved misfortune”.
  • Catharsis – Then we release all that pent up tension with a resolution or happy ending.

It’s how the three act structure works. Once upon a time…

Here’s a great, short video in which¬†Julian Friedmann, literary agent at Blake Friedmann, describes that much more eloquently than I.

As an added bonus, he’s discussing this in the context on US compared to European cinema:

  • Think about the audience, not the characters
  • US movies have 2/3 the dialogue ¬†of European ones
  • US movies have scenes 1/2 the length of European.


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