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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