RIDING THE 8-HORNED STRUCTURE BULL (PART II)

I began PART 1 with an overview of the 3-act script structure and its purpose — to lead your audience on a seamless and fluid journey.

In this post, I’ll introduce the mechanics of structure as it relates to your characters.

There are several approaches to structure. In many ways they’re similar. I like to think the writer finds their own “best way” from the many options available to explore. 

I approach structure in terms of three elements: symmetry, stakes, and layers.

Symmetry = A balance in timing and emphasis of plot points

Stakes = An increasing urgency toward the main problem/plot’s solution 

Layers = A multi-function for each turning point, which includes plot, character, theme, etc.

This is a linear plot-line for a 110 page screenplay.

8-point-structure

The 3 squared boxes are the dominant braces of your script. As you can see, they’re evenly spaced from front to back. Their functions are as follows:

  1. The 1st act break (p 25-27.) This is generally the core concept of your movie, and often the event on which your log-line centers. For example, “After (1st act break event happens,) the main character begins a journey to solve the problem of the 1st act break (and changes/solves/learns X.)” This moment is THE major plot impact that sends your story into its tailspin and your main character on their arduous journey to solve it (while beginning their inward journey to become a new person.)
  1. The midpoint (p 55 of 110.) From the 1st act break to the midpoint, your character is exploring the terrain and rules of the world/circumstances they’re propelled into by the 1st act break. They’ve made the choice to confront the main challenge of the plot, and during these pages, they’re learning to adapt to them. This apprenticeship could come in the form of exploration, education, training, detective work, or an emotional upheaval/thrust into a set of previously avoided circumstances. 

The midpoint often results in a major discovery or a change that propels the character from exploration mode into decision or “fight mode.” From fight mode on, the main character faces the core problem with more certainty, more will, and a better skill-set (which could be internal or external) until they are taken down to their knees at the…

  1. 2nd act break (p 75/85.) This comes in 2 pieces: (p 75) The death/failure of the character who began their journey and (p 85) 2. The rebirth of a new character from the ashes of the first. This new character has learned/acquired something that will enable them to vanquish the problem that the initial character set out to defeat. While this rebirth/realization may come as a fight skill, it’s more monumentally played as an emotional turn – and often something the main character has resisted for their entire journey. This realization is the character’s entire reason for needing (on a core/soul level) the journey to begin with — and the last emotional piece of the puzzle required to prepare them for the final battle in the 4th quarter of the script.

These are the main pillars on which plot is built. The most successful plots mirror the main character. That is, the plot provides the main character with the most appropriate challenge to force their growth.

In Part 3, we’ll explore the mini-points between the main turning points…

If you’d like to schedule a read/analysis of any of your acts, don’t hesitate to contact me

 

 

 

 

 

RIDING THE 8-HORNED STRUCTURE BULL (PART 1)

When I started learning how to write screenplays, the paradigm of the 3-Act Structure confounded me. Two major act breaks, with a big sagging middle, and I was supposed to figure out what to put in between?

three-act-structure

120 pages (on the early diagrams. These days, the standard page-count generally falls between 100 and 110, but in consideration of symmetry, balance, and “ease of math” we’ll stick with 120.)

A ton of empty space. A double-long second act.

And then, one day, I read about the midpoint:

three-act-structure-with-midpointBING.

A beautiful turning-point smack in the middle of the script. Suddenly, everything began to feel more balanced. 4 evenly placed quadrants in a standard script:

A major plot-point at the first, a major plot-point at the second, and a major plot-point at the third.

Let’s backtrack.

Why structure? What’s the point? Why not just put stuff wherever it “feels right?”

Some writers can. Some writers have an innate sense of pulse, pace, development, unfolding. Sometimes that skill-set comes as a consequence of watching movies. Often it comes as a consequence of writing script after script.

The reason structure is so important:

People have seen hundreds of movies with the three-act-mythic structure embedded in them. There’s an innate cultural (and some would argue, “human”) expectation as to how a story is “supposed to go.” If your movie deviates significantly from that structure, for no other reason than to be different, the audience becomes confused.

As an analogy… think of people. 

Everyone’s different, right? Every single person in the world looks different, feels different, smells different, acts different. But underneath each unique and individual personality, every single person has (for the most part)…

The exact same skeleton…

Yes, there are exceptions. But when there are extreme exceptions, we stop. We ponder.

If someone walked toward us, with their head LITERALLY up their ass, would we be able to concentrate on what they were saying?

Structure helps us recognize a movie as a fable. If we use it as a tool, we can use the embedded cultural expectation to create something more unique and compelling than if we were to to toss structure completely aside.

In part two, I’ll explain the function of turning points (macro and micro) and how they relate to your characters.

6 CRUCIAL ELEMENTS TO PUT ON PAGE 1

When readers open your script, they’re opening a map to a destination. Page one tells your reader the general direction they’re driving. Each successive page gives them enough information to remain on course, while engaging them with enough mystery to stay on the road.

Without a clear, compelling open, your reader becomes disoriented. Without a discernible path to follow, they crumple the map, forfeit the drive — and put down your script.

Your reader must trust you in order to keep reading.  

With that in mind, here are 6 CRUCIAL ELEMENTS to put on page 1:

1. Tone: The most under-emphasized and most crucial aspect of screenwriting. Whatever event you open with – and how you unveil it — creates an expectation in your audience of what kind of story they’re reading.

Simply put, tone is genre. More specifically put: Tone is feel.

If you’re writing comedy, your first page should be funny. If you’re writing horror, your first page should unnerve.

Within each tone, there are micro-tones: Some comedies are slapstick, some are droll. Some horrors are supernatural, some are existential.

Feel is not isolated to an event. Feel is woven through every single element on your page. Feel is word-choice, pace, description and dialogue…  Feel is setting, time of day, location, weather. Sound. 

On page one, clarify your story’s feel. Let your passenger know where you’re taking them.

2. Your main character: Your reader is following directions, but who’s giving them? Who’s the navigator the reader trusts to keep them on course? While your main character doesn’t have to be introduced on page one (and if they aren’t, your antagonist often will be) your main character needs to be the first person we begin to follow.

We need to know: This quest is theirs.

Your order of events creates your reader’s focus. Begin your focus on your main character.

3. Your world: Where is your movie going to happen? A beach? Space? An elevator? The setting reinforces the tone and creates an expectation in your audience. If JAWS had opened in a bar, how would that have changed the audience’s expectation? How would it have undermined suspense? How would it have disoriented the reader?

4. An event of impact (that begins to unveil (or tie-into) the main story): Often intertwined with the main character’s central theme/quest, this event sets the stage. In a thriller, it’s often a literal or symbolic death. In a drama, it may be more subtle (though equally important): a job loss, a break in a cold case, a divorce. This event should eventually dovetail into your main character’s quest and thematic arc.

5. A mystery: Simply put — Raise a question. This is on you, Writer. This is about your spin. How can you incite your reader’s curiosity? At the end of the day, the single most important thing to put in page one:

6. A reason to keep reading.

Don’t expect your reader to do you favors.

Don’t expect them to be kind.

Don’t give them an excuse to put down your script.

Give them a clear, compelling roadmap.

Make them turn to page 2.