How Understanding 'Toy Story' Can Help You Get into College

Three words that could get you accepted to the University of Chicago: make it new.

Ethan Sawyer, Writing for
Episode #473
narrative structure college essay advice

This structure will sound familiar to you if you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or Hero’s Journey.

Hero's Journey

Image by Bernard GoldbackCC BY 2.0.

In Campbell’s version, the hero returns with “new knowledge” to share with those who didn’t or couldn’t make the journey. 

One name for this is narrative structure and here’s a quick example of how it works in the film Toy Story:

  • Status Quo. Woody and Andy are best friends and Woody is Andy’s favorite toy.

  • Inciting Incident. Buzz Lightyear arrives and Woody is no longer Andy’s favorite toy. Woody gets jealous and his want is to get Buzz out.

  • Raising the Stakes. As the story continues, Woody pursues his want (to get Buzz out) although as an audience we begin to see that Woody has a deeper psychological need—to overcome his jealousy and (to not get Buzz out, but) to let Buzz in.

  • Moment of Truth/Climax. The crazy neighbor kid ties Buzz to a rocket and threatens to blow Buzz to infinity and beyond. Here, Woody must choose between his want (to get Buzz out) and his need (to let Buzz in, to accept him).

  • New Status Quo. Woody chooses to save Buzz, fulfilling his need over his want. In the end, Woody and Buzz and Andy all play nice together.

In a nutshell, that’s narrative structure.

And this structure has become familiar to you through the many films and stories you’ve seen and heard in your life.

But here’s something you probably didn’t know: narrative structure can help get you into college.

How? Well, you must be clever. Like the heroes and heroines of many animated films—you must be brave. And, most importantly, you must find a college that values uncommon thinking.


About the Author

Ethan Sawyer, Writing for Grammar Girl
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