Dan Harmon is the man behind Community
. Which of course is one of the best written comedies to ever air in our galaxy. So when he talks about learning story structure, you pay attention.
Channel 101: NY • View topic - Gemberling
The first book on it I ever read was Syd Field's The Screenwriter's Workbook. That's like "this always happens on page 10. This always happens on page 25." Which I still find useful to this day, but I thank God it's not all I know.
Then I tried to read Hero with a Thousand Faces, and simply could not, because I was like, "what does this have to do with plot point I on page 25?"
Then I read Vogler's The Writer's Journey, which is, as has been said in this thread, Campbell for dummies, like, "This is how Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit follows the Hero's Journey."
THEN I picked up Hero with a Thousand Faces again, and found that it was suddenly possible to decipher it. And I read it and read it and read it and every time I read it, I'm able to let go of Syd Field and Vogler's training wheels a little more and really ride the bike.
I, too, had the same initial fears about being "hemmed in" by structure, and I would encourage anyone who feels that way to make sure they pick through Campbell's stuff, because gurus speaking strictly about screenplays for movies will, indeed, hem you in, whereas Campbell I think kind of releases you.
For the simple reason that Campbell isn't talking about screenplays. He's not saying, "just like in Chinatown." He's saying, "just like every story from every part of the planet for the last 500,000 years." Campbell is saying: our lives, our minds, our societies, our religions, our relationships, all of life and the universe itself, moves to a certain rhythm, end of thesis. The unspoken thesis being: beat your drum to this universal rhythm and the illusion, to the audience, will be that your drum is shaking the world.
It's sort of like how you learn improv: You start with the children's games that have very strict, seemingly arbitrary rules and stringent time limits, and you gravitate, over time, toward a deeper understanding of WHY, in the game called "no questions," you never ask questions. In the end, you can do "long form" shows where you just step out on stage and do whatever the fuck you want, because you're a trained improviser, now, and it's time to break or follow the rules according to your instincts.