Monday, 17 December 2012

SCREENWRITING # 3 – THREE ACT STRUCTURE – WHAT STAYS, WHAT CHANGES.


The three act structure is complicated. Just when you think you’re getting a handle on it, additional layers of analysis with multiple variables are added. They may be subplots or other complications and they’re layered onto the model in an effort to accommodate a majority of stories. The result is confusion.

The importance of the basic model gets lost within details that are specific to some, but not all stories and they are not part of the model’s foundation.

You need to know these foundations – you need to know them without the clutter of the complicated additions that may or may not apply to the story you are telling.

I’m not saying the rest isn’t important to study and understand, but often it clouds understanding and causes anomalies that confuse even the best writers. Worse still, some writers will be so convinced the full model, with all the layers of intricate detail is the key to writing any story, they will write to the model and not to their story.

These additional details relate to specific stories, genres or style – they include so many qualitative explanations and exceptions that relate to specific situations that may or may not be called into action in YOUR story, that most people end up hopeful rather than certain about what is essential within the story model and what is theirs to include, leave out or skew.

The more detailed the model, the fewer stories it actually applies to – so strip it back and work with the essentials.

Avoid at all costs any model that purports to fit every successful film ever made.

In a nutshell I believe you have to be fluent with the story model. You have to know what can and can’t be manipulated and left out so your story can dictate the model and not the model dictate your story.

I once paid considerable money to attend the seminar of a man with all the answers. When we arrived he revealed he was a former merchant banker who had made his millions and had since moved in on Hollywood to work in his passion, films.

And he was being paid big money by industry professionals. Why? Because he’d developed a computer program that searched for hundreds of specific attributes to story within any script. This program then catalogued and applied an algorithm, or ‘weighted importance’, to the elements of any given story, how they’d been applied, when and where and in what order, and this gave a numerical ranking based on thousands of produced films, calculated and adjusted for box office success, to arrive at a formula to forecast box office success and failure of any script, broken down into its individual elements and entered into his program.

It reduced storytelling to a mathematical formula. If you need evidence the lunatics are running the asylum – this is it.

Imagine doing the same thing with a painting; asking a computer to determine if an artist had painted a painting that would sell based on the elements, composition and style of that painting. Writing stories often gets confused by the lawyers, marketing experts, accountants and business graduates who levitate to positions where they run a production company or studio, as ‘widgets’ with no ethereal artistic component.

A story is a work of art.

Story telling is how we make sense of our world and how we fit into it. It is as old as man and the BEST way to tell stories has been refined over time. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way – but it’s a GOOD way. The only criteria a story should be judged on is whether the story is enjoyed.

THE SCREENPLAY: Writing to the rules.

As much as I dislike arbitrary rules – the page rules for a screenplay, of one page per one screen minute, is fairly accurate and an accepted guide. It also allows for a very clear way to judge the pacing of major plot points, giving a remarkably good guide for pacing events in a screenplay. The other benefit of marking the major moments in a screenplay by the page number is that it gives you some direct anchor points where you can check your story is meeting the basics of the model.

If your story is working, it should meet certain basic structural points. If you can get these structural points placed correctly – you’re well on your way to solving the very difficult problem of getting the pacing of your story right. There is plenty of leeway in these page guides, ensuring room for a story’s individuality and there are infinite exceptions to these rules.

The only real rule is – does your story require the pacing you have given it. If yes, break the rules, but if your story (and most are) falls within the usual story parameters, stick to the basic format. The general rule for writing screenplays is one of the general rules that cover the rest of life – DON’T POKE THE BEAR! In this case, the bear is anyone you want to look favorably on your work.

If you’re new writer – meaning unproduced – stick to the established anchor points, like page number total, and the page number to be meeting the basic moments of the model. If breaking or meeting a rule produce the same result – MEET THE RULE.

Wait until you’re produced to show the world how brilliant you are. 

Feature screenplay 95-115 pages. 90 – 100 works for a comedy, 115-123 is acceptable for something a little weightier. More than 125 WILL NOT WORK for an unsolicited screenplay. It will not be read. I know this sounds arbitrarily insane – but a little like the example of the computer program earlier – after reading tens of thousands of scripts, executives have come to recognize that this is a very accurate indicator. Tell a story within these page numbers and you at least have the length and pacing right – over or under, something is wrong.

It's not that those judging your script want to throw away someone's hard work because it doesn't conform. These people are all looking for great scripts. They are desperate to find them. They throw a non conforming script away because most professional readers/producers/manager and agents have literally thousands of scripts to sift through. They can't possibly read them all, so they look for red flags that alert them a writer is not ready: format, length, big print, if scenes begin and end too early or too late and on and on the 'red flag' list goes.

This is why many rejected scripts often go on to be great. Why some scripts that go on to find fame have previously failed to make it past the first round of a competition and so on. Often a great script is hidden by a 'red flag' issue to a reader and the golden content only emerges when the writer's craft catches up to their content, meaning all those writing red flags are removed.

You have to make yourself look professional in every possible way so readers can get to the content without bias or reservation. This business is so tough that a breath of doubt in a reader's mind will send your script to the wrong pile. 

As we go, I will post a series of illustrations of the 3 act structural model as it unfolds. I will also plot the points against the story of Cinderella on that model. I find the basic Disney version of Cinderella illustrates the model well and almost everyone knows the story – so it serves as a great reference point.

The Set Up – pages 1 to 25.


The set up is what we need to know in order to allow the story we are telling to be told. Tell us everything we need to know, but nothing more until we need to know it.

Never lose sight or let the set-up become any more complicated than that. If it is more complicated then you have something going on in your set-up that shouldn’t be there. Take it out.

Make sure your screenplay lays out the following in such a way that it leaves no questions that NEED to be answered for someone coming in cold with no other knowledge of your story:

Setup Q1/ Who are the main characters?
Setup Q2/ What needs to be known to understand these characters?
-          Tell us everything we need to understand them, their place in the world and their relationship to the story that is about to unfold.
Setup Q2/ What is the world of these characters?
Setup Q3/ What needs to be known to make sense of the coming story?
Setup Q4/ Have you taken every opportunity, within setting the above in place, to seed in elements that will create turning points in the story and even help to roll out a well plotted and planned resolution. (You may not be able to at this stage, but if you can do so within the parameters of the setup - do)

Think of Act One – or the Setup – as the current world. This is the world we first encounter when we arrive. If a stranger came into this world, with no information, have you given that person enough information to make sense of the situation and the people involved? Have you delivered this information in the most creative, visually interesting and economical way? Have you delivered all the information, directly or coded, to make sense of what comes later?

Coded information refers to visuals or situations based on the world we share and understand. Sometimes an image or situation doesn’t need to explained, because the moment explains itself by a, reasonably expected, shared life experience.

A character comes to their parked car and finds a ticket taped to their windscreen. They rip it off and look around angrily.
We know they’ve been fined for a parking infringement without need for a further explanation. It is reasonable to expect a modern audience to be able to decode this. When the character shoves that ticket into a glove box alongside dozens of others, we have another coded visual – this person is a serial offender. It doesn’t need to be spelt out any more. The information is conveyed in this shared experience very quickly. (A writer must use their own judgment about what is a universal experience and able to be coded and what is too personal or obscure.) 

The example I have always used to staff writers on a steep learning curve is to cut in on a scene where someone is on the phone. What do we know? Either that person rang the person they are speaking to or they received the call. When the call started they may have said hello and traded other small talk. We, as modern citizens and phone uses know how phones work and how conversations go, so none of this is needed and we can start with the line – “She slept with him?”

Break free from any thought that if it doesn’t happen on screen, it doesn’t happen. The opposite is true – you can make anything and everything happen off screen if you code what is on screen well enough. And that leaves you free to be economical and cut to the chase. “She slept with him?” – grabs your attention so much better than:
“Hi”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Same old, I guess. Dougie and Sharon are still fighting.”
“What now?”
“Who knows, they actually hooked up last night, but it hasn’t seemed to help.”
“She slept with him?”

Remember the golden rule SHOW DON’T TELL.

What exactly does this mean?

In Pretty Woman when we first meet Vivian (Julia Roberts) she’s in a very small shared studio apartment and getting ready to go out. She goes to her bathroom, to the secret place where she hides her money. She opens a box hidden inside the top of the toilet and is annoyed to find one dollar. She goes to leave her small apartment and hears the landlord berating another tenant for not paying rent on time. She then leaves out a window and down the fire escape. Not a word spoken and a great example of showing, not telling. There’s even a motivated launch into the coming scene where Vivian finds her house mate and says – “What did you do with the rent money?”

She could have very easily gone out of her apartment door and said – “I promise Mr Landlord, I’ll get you the money, I just don’t have it at the moment.”

Both scenes do exactly the same thing, but one does it visually (shows) and one does it verbally (tells) - where a character literally speaks information. (One is also terrible and one is great)
Wherever possible find ways to show us the information. The better the writer, the more creative the ways that can be found to show and not tell what needs to be known.

In one of the most famous visual sequences – and in a setup, in fact the very first shot – Hitchcock pans around an apartment in Rear Window. We see a character in pajamas, in a wheelchair with a broken leg. On his cast is written, “Here lies the broken bones of L.B. Jeffries, and the camera pans to see a broken camera, above it an extraordinary picture on the wall - a race car crash with a wheel milliseconds from hitting the camera. Then we’re shown a series of other framed photos on the wall, all extraordinary places and dangerous events. Then we see a negative of a woman and the same photo of that woman on the cover of a prestigious magazine.

A lesser screenwriter may have chosen this –
A phone call…
“Is that Mr Jeffries?”
“Yes, who’s this?”
“I’m with the racetrack. We’re just following up on your accident.”
“No need, I’m fine. Just sick of being stuck inside. I miss the excitement.”
“So what happened hasn’t put you off covering future race meetings?”
“Of course not. As soon as I can walk I’ll be back the pits.”

Even that clunky passage doesn’t give as much detail as the opening visual and it certainly has none of the richness or subtlety. So showing is far more powerful and conveys more in a moment than any dialogue ever can and this is the real reason why it’s preferred whenever possible – not simply because we’re in a visual medium.

CINDERELLA: The Setup.

Ø  Cinderella is the daughter of a widower who married again and then passed away, leaving his daughter, Cinderella, under her stepmother’s care.
Ø  The stepmother has daughters of her own and favours them over Cinderella.
Ø  The stepdaughters are allowed, if not encouraged by their mother, to order Cinderella around like a slave.
Ø  Cinderella is downtrodden, overworked, of good character but sadly mistreated for no good reason. Her spirit broken, she can only dream of the life her stepsisters lead.
Ø  The stepmother and her daughters are spoilt and demanding.
Ø  There is a clear good versus evil, right versus wrong theme at play. The beauty of Cinderella and the ugliness of the stepsisters underlines this – beauty is virtuous, ugly is evil. (Nb. Disney is unrealistic)

So the setup is relatively simple in what it needs to cover; who the characters are; their world and their relationship with each other and, some hint, ideally visual – as to wants and needs of the character that will propel that character through the main story.

(Don’t worry if this talk of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ sounds like ‘Something-Nothing’ speak at the moment – it will be explained very clearly in a moment.)(Something-Nothing speak is my biggest hate – it is analysis of a story that sounds informative and insightful, but conveys no real help or direction for the writer when you break down what has actually been said. I.e. “Your story needs to be brighter with more drive towards the resolution.” – Gee, thanks.)

What does Cinderella want when we first meet her? To be treated fairly. To be allowed to live her life. To be an equal to her stepsisters. To have her father back. To be cared for. To be loved like she was until her father died. To be considered of worth. Yes to all of these and more – you’re the story teller – in your version you decide what she wants and needs.

You don’t need these things to be stated overtly, just seed them in, so later, if and when they come up, we understand them. As an audience we don’t suddenly questions why Cinderella seems to lack confidence and be scared of the treatment she’s expecting from her stepmother.

Around two thirds of the way into your set up – around page 15, something happens that gives the main character a choice or change in direction; a fork in their road. This is known as the ‘Inciting Incidence’ or the catalyst for change.  (Or any of a number of other labels – “first act turning point”, etc.)

The character can commit to this change or not. Sometimes the change comes at a risk or an expense and the last third of the setup, pages 15-25, brings more examples from the character’s ‘current’ world that help make their mind up – perhaps the choice is reiterated or there is a clear picture of what the future will be if that choice is not taken.

It’s these pages, 15-25, where the character decides to take up the opportunity presented by the choice/change of direction, whether it is taken by the character or forced on them. So the ‘choice’ may be a choice made by the universe or others that befalls or confronts the character – not necessarily a voluntary choice made from within the character.

CINDERELLA: The Inciting Incident/The Choice.

The Prince is throwing a ball for all the young women in the land – he’s looking for a wife. Cinderella is swept up imagining the fantastic night that awaits her.

The change in direction/choice is taken:
Cinderella’s stepmother tells Cinderella she can go.

This now creates an entirely new world – one where the royal ball exists and Cinderella’s head is filled with dreams of attending.

A moment after allowing Cinderella to dream her evil Stepmother gives her chores she can’t possibly finish in time. This takes us into act two – where Cinderella will try and get herself to the ball.

This effort commits Cinderella to the choice/change of direction.

The inciting incident/choice is the revelation of the ball. This changes the current world. The choice for Cinderella is - will she get to go to the ball?

The moment we get a yes – in this case her stepmother’s ‘false’ yes - we have left act one and our old world. The choice has been answered/acted upon. The world we first encountered has changed forever, because the presence of the upcoming ball changes it.
 
By the end of your set up you should have made it clear your character has committed to the change/choice and why.

The moment the choice is acted upon, committed to and taken – the first act (the setup) ends and the second act begins. The commitment to the choice should be big enough to change the world of the character we first encountered.

You move from the current world into the new world. The choice, inciting incident, catalyst for change, whether taken of forced, has changed the world of your character in some way – therefore they enter, are delivered or thrown into this new world, either voluntarily or by force and not always by a literal choice on their part.

Neo in the Matrix is largely a passive character who is pushed into making a choice by Morpheus. Act two begins the moment Neo chooses the reality pill – until then he’s had the desire hanging over him to find out what all the strange signs have meant – what is the Matrix? But he is still clearly in the current world, or the world we first encountered when we first joined him. It is when he takes the pill he commits and literally leaves the world we first encountered and enters a new world.

But throughout the setup, this new world is conspiring and compelling him to make that choice. Yes he ultimately made the choice of which pill to take, but he was steered into it at every turn by Morpheus and in the end Morpheus even pushed him to choose a pill with a lure that no human being could turn down. One pill leads to knowledge, one pill leads to ignorance. Did Neo really have a choice? I argue no.

Often, and again it may just be the way my mind likes to definitively understand something, words like choice, conflict, progression, disturbance – are applied to a range of actions that relate to the spirit of the word, rather than their more literal, narrower definition. This is also why many teaching story structure come up with labels that broadly define every possibility – like inciting incident, catalyst for change, call to adventure, call to action, turning point one, plot point one, first complication. They all mean the same thing: a change. So beware what people are actually referring to when they use these terms or any others. For example – someone may refer to a change of direction and it’s easy to misinterpret this as changing the direction literally – but they may also include speeding up as a change in direction. In other words, things keep going in exactly the same direction, but they go there at a change in speed of intensity.

Similarly they may say a scene needs to change through conflict. Again the words change and conflict may actually mean: change – to go from being happy to VERY happy. And conflict: to receive praise and encouragement that propels the character from happy to very happy. Just make sure you understand what a structural model is covering and the context it uses with words chosen to describe each moment or element within that structure. 

When you follow someone’s model – be open to apply a broad definition to the labels they give to the structural signposts and components - it’s about understanding how each component works – without that, all the important sounding labels and titles are just more Something-Nothing speak. We are trying to ‘know’ what we are doing as storytellers, not simply sound like we know what we are doing.

Another setup/inciting incident example.
Harry Potter – Harry lives under the stairs in his Aunt and Uncle’s house. He gets an invitation to study at Hogwarts. There’s the inciting incident – the catalyst for change – the opportunity for choice. But the ‘leap’ from the current world of act one – his life under the stairs, unaware of his wizard background - into the new world of act two – his studying at Hogwarts and informed of his ‘Arthurian’ legacy - doesn’t happen until Harry commits to the half platform and travels through the wall separating the two worlds. Very clearly he leaves the world we first encountered – the Muggles world - and enters the world of the wizards.

Once you are in the new world of act two – you can never go back. Even if you do, the old world is no longer the same because of the time spent in the new world. So the old world – or the world we initially encountered no longer exists in the same way.

There are all sorts of opportunities to skew these parameters. You should feel free to do this yourself once you have truly understood what needs to be set up, how and why it needs to be set up, and what needs to be laid out to propel and seed in information to drive the rest of your story. But only skew the model if your story dictates.

How will you know if your story dictates? By studying and understanding story-structure. I’m sorry that’s a circular answer – but it’s a chicken and an egg type situation. You can only judge when to break the rules when you know and understand the rules. That’s why it’s important to simplify the structure and really come to terms with what are the structural ‘must haves’ are, as opposed to the more complicated additions that apply to some, but not all story types or situations.

To do this you need to study or write to the rules many times. Experience will make you a better writer. Experience analyzing other scripts will also help, but it’s ultimately working in hindsight – a tool for a script editor, reader or producer/director. To really understand how to turn your idea into a well structured screenplay from a blank page – you have to do it. It’s a brutal learning curve – but to tell your stories in your voice, there’s no other way.

I have heard people say it takes nine screenplays before you write to a level that will be considered professional. Once again – there’s no hard and fast rule. You may be such a fan of movies that the structure is ingrained in you and you get it on your first or second try. Or you may be still searching to reach that level at screenplay fifteen.

The only reason I mention the quote about nine screenplays of experience – and I have heard it a few times with a variety of ‘times’ listed – is because it’s a good indicator that if you don’t get it on your first or second try, it’s not unusual. In fact it’s very usual. You need to do it a number of times before you truly begin to understand and know what it is you’re doing. So don’t be too proud to walk away from a screenplay and mark it down as a good learning experience. Sometimes, especially at the beginning of your writing career, moving on to the next project will do you far more good than doggedly sticking to a project that isn’t moving forward.

If the idea is worthwhile – you can always come back to it after you’ve written your ‘experience’ quota; after you’ve had some success and know some contacts who will read your work. The idea is always yours to pitch. Who knows, somewhere down the track it may be just what someone is looking for; but not now and not today.

The reason experience is so crucial is because every story dictates its own structure. If you’re a writer you’ll understand when I say, eventually the blank page you’re staring at will compel you to write and it will also compel you to choose the right way to tell the story that is screaming for release. The arbitrary model rules, like page number work for MOST stories, but… not all.

For instance – some stories need very little setup. A recent film I saw, ‘Ondine’, with Colin Farrell, showed his character, ‘Circus’ on a fishing trawler, pulling in nets. This is all we need for us to know who the character is – he’s a fisherman and he’s working off what looks like the British Isles. His nets pull in a young woman – an inciting incident - and when he thinks she’s a body he radios for authorities, giving us three words in a thick Irish accent (Okay – Ireland) – then the woman moves – she’s alive!

Only 2 minutes into the film and we have our setup and our first structural turning point/change/inciting incident. Will Circus commit to the young women and bring her into his life? That’s the question to take us into act two. But the film has already broken numerous structural rules – the set up is all visual, which is great. Its inciting incident is on page 2. So what? The story dictates it and the writer had the confidence to listen.

Does Circus have a wife or a girlfriend? That’s an interesting question and it adds to what compels me to keep watching – but it’s not imperative to this story at this stage. If it was, the writer would have found a way to SHOW me what I needed to know, maybe a close up of a wedding ring when Circus radioed for help.

An apocalyptic world may require very little setup as well – due to conveyed visual messages and understanding. (Coded information discussed earlier) We understand almost immediately how little there is to set up about an apocalyptic world. Who destroyed civilization? Who started the war? Who won it? Who lived and died? It’s interesting, but it doesn’t help us understand the story – so we don’t need it.

When we see a character in rags, scrounging for food – we pretty much have the information we need. Show us the characters we’re focusing on and what relationships they have or don’t have and then you can bring in the inciting incident and give the character a choice to make.

Once again - this isn’t a hard and fast rule – maybe for this apocalyptic story there are details of who the character is, where they live, their relationships that are important enough for us to know to roll out the story. But it may be just as it seems with nothing else needed – a lost, lonely, character, all alone and eking out a wretched existence in the aftershock of some global catastrophe.

Here is a great example of exactly why I argue that the basic foundations apply in almost every case – but the specific details of any model are different in so many cases. Trying to fit your story exactly to any predetermined model will only confuse and force you into writing a structure for your story that your story doesn’t dictate.

What if you have an incredibly interesting setup – the adaptation of The Life of Pi could have seen any number of points used as the inciting incident and the jump from act one to act two. It could have pushed well past the 12-15 page guidelines for the inciting incident, because the quality and richness of the story would hold our attention to allow this. To accommodate the writer would then shorten the second act or create a longer than usual film. Once again, the story and how you choose to tell it will dictate large aspects of the structure.

Provided you know what each aspect is – they are yours to manipulate – provided you’re skillful enough to keep your audience engaged and entertained. That should be the only hard and fast rule – that should be the overriding hard and fast rule of any model: engage and entertain your audience from first fade in to the final fade out.

The hard rules here are these:

Ø  The setup must place and define characters, relationships, their world and any other information we need to dive into our story in act two. It must seed any circumstances needed that become relevant/important for the later story to work and be believed. The setup must deliver this as economically as possible.

Ø  An inciting incident must arrive once all the information is delivered – and this incident gives/forces or creates a character/s a choice/change of direction. When the character/s commit to that choice/change in their life/world – the first act is done and the second act begins.

It’s that simple. Other variables from other more elaborate models CAN certainly apply, but they also may not apply to the story you’re telling. That’s where confusion begins for someone trying to understand the story model fluently.

Every other element, placement of inciting incident, length of setup, outlining initial wants and seeing overall need, are all variables the writer can alter, place at unorthodox times or subvert in other ways.

Listen to the story!

The page anchors are remarkably accurate for MOST screenplays, so don’t discard them simply because you’re an undiscovered genius who needs to be different to be noticed. Don’t subvert anything you don’t have to – it will simply make your screenplay harder to sell – but if it’s truly needed for the story to be told in the best possible way – then trust those instincts. Alterations can be made selectively by a confident writer.

That’s the grey area that makes writing a screenplay so hard – but it will also make you a success or a failure. How successful you are depends on your judgment as a story teller – and that is the one aspect that can’t be taught. The only solace is - no-one’s judgment is any good until they have a fluent understanding of how a story works.   

Act Two – The Journey - The Story – The Action – Pages 15 - 85


I mentioned want and need in the setup. These become very important to act two because they drive the story.

Again, I’m simplifying because I’m getting rid of all the complicated layers that try to make a model fit as many stories as possible. When I jumped off the analysis cliff and declared what it is I believed and understood to be unchangeable – I found it helped those I was working with to get a hold of the basic foundations of structure very quickly and through hundreds of hours of produced storytelling, these foundations seemed to hold across whatever story was being told.

As the writer want and need of the character/s are yours to decide. Once again it pays to think of these as concepts rather than definitions. Perhaps think of the want as the character’s superficial goal and the need as their primary goal or that aspect of character or life that will make them whole or enable them to complete their quest – even if they aren’t aware this is what they need to complete their quest/objective. This may be part of their character that is lacking and that they are not ready t acknowledge as lacking when we first meet them.

This primary goal may be unconscious. It may be love or to belong, or to gain respect or trust in others. It is what a character needs to be complete or to survive or thrive. And it may need to be learnt and understood and gained through trial and experience, rather than a simple recognition or decision from the character to go after it and attain it. Even then – it may not be given, it may have to be earned or won against incredible odds. This ‘thing’ they are lacking, either internally or externally, can be seen as the character’s flaw.

Often the things we want are motivated by the things we need. A person who continually wants material things may feel unfulfilled in life and hope their next executive toy will fill the gap. With each new material thing they gain, they grow ever more desperate and depressed because they feel less certain there is anything to fill the emptiness in their life they’re feeling.

Sometimes the need is something we can’t obtain ourselves – it must be won or found or learnt with help or luck.

This is a simplistic view of incredibly complicated issues. They are issues great minds have argued over and studied throughout time and they are the issues that compel us to examine the same issues over and over again in our stories. You are dealing with the scope of the human condition and the more appealing your story, the better you render it, the more people you’ll find relating. 

It is these choices, the complications and original framing of issues, that will make your script great and your story worth telling – but for the purpose of detailing the foundation of the model in the clearest possible terms, I am keeping these incredibly complicated, all encompassing psychological conditions, as simple as possible.

So we have a superficial want and an underlying primary need.

Even simpler – the superficial goal is transitory/often poorly thought through/has little ongoing impact on life. The primary goal is substantial/permanently altering/life changing.   

We have moved into our second act and this is where the choice made in the first act will lead the character to achieve, or fail to achieve, the result that first act choice offered. This is the act that can get analyzed to death. It can be made so complicated and convoluted that it becomes a study of analysis, rather than the organic telling of a good story.

Too many people concentrate on the detail of additional layers of the structure instead of the basic foundations. Think of these layers of structural detail as a magician’s misdirect. It causes many writers to look in the wrong direction. If your foundation isn’t sound you can rewrite forever and never fix anything. Adjusting the details will not solve your problem.

No matter how magnificent the façade, if it’s built on poorly constructed foundations the whole thing’s going to fall down.

The first half of the second act begins with a series of escalating attempts or tests where the character tries to attain their superficial goal – their want – the thing THEY THINK they need to achieve in order to succeed. And because they are going after the wrong thing - they fail. They may not fail immediately – they may even succeed in gaining their want and be thrilled by their superficial gain/success, but ultimately it will lead to them knowing they’ve failed, knowing their success has delivered a hollow victory.

Think of the well trodden tale of a character who finds money - “Yippee! I’m rich and all my problems are over.” But we all know they aren’t.

Why do they fail? Because there’s a bigger ‘need’ at stake – the deeper soul of the character is still hidden – gaining their superficial goal/want will not deliver what they NEED. In fact, in many cases it will only prove they are lacking what they really need. Gaining their superficial want will move them further away from gaining whatever their primary goal/need actually is.

Perhaps the character hasn’t even yet realized what their true need/primary goal is. And this need/goal can’t be achieved by gaining superficial wants – so they have to fail in some way at this point. They may even be confused at this stage and not understand why their success at getting the superficial want hasn’t delivered the ultimate victory.

This is the first half of the second act; a series of escalating attempts to achieve the character’s superficial wants.

Remember: There may be more to your second act than a series of escalating trials, attempts or action to attain the superficial want. There may be twists, reversals or character ‘breathing’ moments – your story will dictate what else is needed – but the escalating attempts or escalating action is the MUST HAVE component.

The paradox of want and need: The character feels they want something, unaware that want is a symptom of their true need. When they finally REALISE/DISCOVER/RECOGNIZE this need, either at the midpoint or in the second half of the second act, and sacrifice their superficial want to gain the higher value need, they often win their superficial want as a result.

Often, by that stage, because the character has learnt the life lessons and experienced growth as a character – the want that is now theirs, is suddenly of very little importance.

In the judgment of Solomon, the king sat in judgment over two women claiming to be the mother of a single child. When he ordered the child cut in half, one woman immediately gave up her rights to raise the child. This is who Solomon awarded the child to. This woman wanted the child – of course, she was the child’s mother, but her bigger need was the child’s safety. A mother would die for their child – so to be willing to give up her want to ensure her need – to make sure the child survived – she ultimately gains the right to have custody. The need trumps the want every time.

These escalating actions/attempts to gain a ‘want’ don’t fit every story perfectly, but it is close. And it’s certainly the closest set of secure signposts I’ve found across every story – the only proviso is not to anchor the terms ‘want’ and ‘need’ too narrowly – rather use superficial goal and primary goal to broaden those terms so they become broad concepts that encompass character motivations. (They are motivations you as the writer must decide upon and assign – as dictated by your story)

This is my argument for the entire set of structural models – yes, a story can fit a model perfectly, but usually it’s an interpretative fit and the more detail you add to a model, in an effort to cover more aspects of more specific stories, the further away from a clear model to guide writers you go. The more detailed and complicated a model becomes - the more of an interpreter to the ‘spirit’ of the analysis and the terms being used the user needs to be.

That’s why all films can be made to fit in hindsight and so much analysis of films in ‘development’ push and pull a story away from the writer’s intention.

I encourage this anchored signpost method of the main structural because it seems to be shared by almost every established model. It seems to me the best, clearest way to guide writers and avoid confusion of terms and conflicting intricate details of the final components to a story.

In essence I am saying nothing new. Just saying less and not trying to cover every aspect of every story.

Get the basics right and leave the analysis of the detail of your story until your story is told. A great story will guide you to tell it well. Trying to fit it to a model as you write will only rob that story of its unique qualities. You may even break some of the more detailed guidelines used by some models, but you may break those rules and still tell a great, engaging story. Once again – story is king.      

SUMMARY: Into the second act, set your character off on their journey. Allow them to go after what they think they want as a result of the choice offered from act one. Give them escalating attempts to achieve this want, (escalating in effort/intensity/tension/danger/risk – that is, each attempt should be a bigger attempt, a more committed, greater challenge to achieve, than the last.)

In Rainman, Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie Babbitt, wants to take his autistic brother, Raymond, to the attorney’s in LA and challenge his father’s estate that left everything to the mental institution that cares for Raymond.

Charlie’s primary (subconscious) goal/need is to come to terms with his childhood, his relationship with his late father and why he was never told of his brother.
His superficial goal/want is to get money.

The character begins as an uncaring selfish man only wanting his share of his father’s estate.

When Raymond refuses to fly, and Charlie drives him to LA, Charlie slowly comes to understand and even love his brother and in so doing, comes to understand his childhood and his father’s behaviour.

Raymond Babbit was sent away because he put Charlie in danger – that’s how much Charlie’s father cherished Charlie; to choose his safety over his brother. It may have ruined father and son’s relationship – but at least now Charlie has his answers.

In the end Charlie gives up fighting for the money to keep Raymond from being upset and pressured into a decision. Charlie’s growth as a man is obvious.

The second act begins when Charlie and Raymond come together. Charlie then makes escalating attempts to get what he wants – to get to LA quickly to claim his share of the money. These attempts are all the different ways Charlie tries and fails to get Raymond to LA as quickly as possible. Each attempt is made out of increasing desperation to make it on time and gain money from his father’s estate. Each attempt requires greater commitment from Charlie.

Remember as the writer you choose if your character comes out of the story a winner or a loser. In Goodfellas Ray Liotta’s character, Henry, ultimately wasn’t able to change. He turned against the mob by becoming a witness, but even in his reallocation and anonymous new life he longed for the excitement and adventure of his days as a gangster.

In the second act, once Henry is accepted as a Goodfella – he and his two ‘crew’, Tommy and Jimmy, DeNiro and Pesci, make continuous efforts to become more than common soldiers in the organization. They want to be respected/powerful leaders of the organized mob, but they fail. Sometimes they fail because their efforts aren’t recognized as they think they should be – sometimes they fail because their own behaviour puts them at odds with the inner members – they kill a ‘made’ man, a forbidden act. But they act like a law unto themselves as they go after what they want.

They should fall in line and respect the organization and its rules – (their need is to move up and they can only do this if they truly belong) – that’s how they’ll be accepted – but they can’t do this – they want to belong without following any of the rules. They see themselves above the rules.

Again – their superficial goal/want is to belong, be given respect and they make escalating attempts to force this want to a point where they have artificially created the result they were seeking – to be big, respected leaders within the mob. But the truth is their status is artificial.

When Tommy goes to be made – he’s killed. Henry deals in forbidden drugs and is disowned and Tommy isn’t the right background so can never be full accepted. They fail to realise how to go about getting what they want and therefore never gain what they need – genuine respect and acceptance within the organization. I guess the writer is telling us something in this choice – can you ever gain real respect and acceptance as a member of the mob?

Henry Hill tells us in his very first line – “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” The inciting incident is when he goes to work for Paulie, the commitment to this new world is when he ‘pops his cherry’ and is arrested – from that point he’s an apprentice gangster and entering a brand new world – a world where he should be adhering to the code of the organization.  

How many challenges/attempts to achieve the character’s superficial goal do you need in the first half of act two? That’s up to you. Three is common. But you can choose one sustained challenge/attempt or fifteen – as long as the intensity of the challenge rises and the story dictates one sustained attempt. (Apollo 13)

Forest Gump has too many attempts to count where Forest is trying to make sense of the world – and each one is a greater commitment from him than the last. It is also, in my opinion, a great example of why story is king. (I will use it to illustrate when I discuss story selection.)

The rise of intensity is as simple as it sounds. If you choose one obstacle, challenge, attempt to gain a superficial goal/want (I have heard all sorts of names for these ‘story hurdles’) – make sure each attempt builds - keep our interest! Entertain! Trust the story. If it doesn’t do all these things it may well be the story and not the structure you’re choosing letting you down. When in doubt ask yourself – would I watch it?

The moment one attempt ends, a new bigger attempt or challenge is needed. So if it is only one attempt it needs to be a ripper that has an inbuilt rising level of intensity throughout.

If it is more – then each attempt has to be bigger and better than the one before.

As an example – a boy wants to date a girl. Attempt one is a phone call. Attempt two is asking her out on a date. Attempt three is breaking into her house to spy on her and learn how to win her over. Each attempt is bigger than the last.

The superficial goal/want in Wag The Dog is to stop the news breaking that the President sexually assaulted an underage firefly girl and keep it quiet until after the election that is two weeks away. Attempt one is to leak information about a secret weapon that doesn’t actually exist. This holds for a day. Attempt two is to create a war. Attempt three is to create a hero and detail a hostage drama where the hero is being held.

Each attempt to achieve the want is bigger than the last. The overriding primary goal/need is to keep the inner machination of government and politics absolute secrecy so no-one ever knows the truth about the level of political conspiracy and manipulation to world events that actually takes place. As the second half of the second act unwinds we see people benefit and suffer so this overriding primary goal/need is realized - to remain silent. The illegal immigrant gets citizenship, the producer is killed.

The first half of the second act is a series of escalating attempts to secure a superficial goal/want.

Cinderella tries to do the impossibly long list of chores her stepmother has set her. She can’t get them done and resigns herself to not attending the ball.
Then her Fairy Godmother shows up and says she is going to the ball.
Cinderella thanks the Fairy Godmother, but she can’t possibly go to the ball. She’s filthy, has no dress and a stack of work to do. How could she measure up to anyone else at the ball even if she did find a way to go?

But the Godmother has magic and snap, snap, snap, a series of wonderful surprises – Cinderella is cleaned, dressed, her work done and her pets and pesky rodents are turned into grand coachmen and horses – the pumpkin into a coach.

It’s pretty impressive stuff and each snap brought something better than the last. The ominous warning to be home by midnight is laid in, again raising the intensity of her risk/attempt to go to the ball against her stepmother’s wishes and off she goes to the ball. She’s let in – she made it.

She passes her last hurdle the entry to the ball and every head turns. It’s everything SHE THOUGHT she wanted.

We have a series of escalating attempts to get to the ball ending with ‘magic’ incarnations, a warning hanging over her and entrance to the ball – exactly what Cindi wanted and dreamed of. Each moment rises in scope and emotional intensity.

But it’s hollow. It’s transitory. It means nothing. If she goes and dances and comes home – what’s changed? She had a good night out – hardly helpful to her in the long run and not a story. But layer in a primary need that she hasn’t acknowledged, to be loved – respected and treated well – to gain self worth/self belief that’s she’s as good as anyone - and we’re moving in on a complete story.

The Midpoint – page 52ish.

Now we reach the half way point, the midpoint, the central turning point, the major event  – (Once again, it has been given many different names –– they all mean the same thing - the middle of your story.)

It is often the highest emotional point and it is also often the place where the need, either for the audience or for the characters involved – becomes realized. Perhaps we could say the character’s flaw is shown to them or discovered by them. In Schindler’s list it’s the point where Schindler realizes he’s been manipulated by Stern. Schindler is benefiting financially, while Stern, his right hand man, has been acting only to save lives. It shows Schindler what a loathsome man he’s been. 

It can be the moment of confrontation or the moment of extreme triumph and happiness – but it is a loud moment, either literally or in terms of being emotionally changing – it changes the pre-existing dynamic.

The real point of the midpoint – in layman’s terms – is to wake your audience up. The story has now settled in. The main character is after something and we, the audience, have had time to come to terms with this and accept it. We are, and will always be to some extent, a child with a toy – and we’re bored now. So we need a change of direction or a new element added that makes us suddenly revalue everything we’ve seen. We can now code all that’s gone before with this new added twist, element, direction – whatever the half way point of act two adds – and instantly imagine all the wonderful complications and twists the added element or direction could bring to the story.

We re-engage. As a story teller you have to be half a yard ahead of your audience – dragging them forward with a series of, “Ohhhh”s  and “Ahhhh”s – they didn’t see that coming, but now that it’s here they like it.

The whole film will shift as a result of the midpoint. In a romantic comedy it’s where a character discovers she’s only being wooed because of a bet.

In Wag the Dog it’s when the ‘Created Hero’, already discovered to be insane, attacks the girl at the farm and is then shot dead and finally Dustin Hoffman’s unflappable producer who has been saying the whole film – “This is nothing” – finally says – “This is not good”.

He created a war to cover a sexual indiscretion! The audience have been cheering for this all to come unstuck for half a film – now they have what they want.

In Tootsie it’s when Michael Dorsey allows Tootsie’s world and Michael’s to meet when he delivers the pick-up line he was told by Julie she would respond to – she doesn’t and Michael realizes he’s hurting people, he’s a fake, he’s achieved success at the expense of his integrity. His primary goal/need has proven more powerful than his superficial goal/want – leaving him unfulfilled.

Once again – it’s not exact – it’s broad strokes – but it can be applied to almost every story going.

So the midpoint reverses, intensifies, reinforces or changes the direction of the main character and their goals – the only thing to aim for is to deliver a rousing/memorable moment in the story – either success or failure, celebration or realization – that propels the character/s at a changed momentum – either forward and faster, backward, sideways, stops them dead, or some other twist that moves them out of the trajectory they were in and redirects them, in some way, towards their primary goal/need.

The midpoint stokes the fire to re-trigger your story for the second half of act two. It should make the audience brace for impact in some way – now you have to deliver that impact.


 Cinderella enters the ball. Everyone has noticed her. She’s gone from the put upon servant to a woman envied by all – her want. (To be beautiful and to shine at the ball, the equal of any)
Then the Prince sees her and is entranced – he instantly falls in love. He dances with her all night. It’s the culmination of her want – her dream!

More importantly it has us as an audience going – “This is going to cause some problems back home when the evil step mother/sister’s find out.”

At the ball, the clock strikes midnight and the realization hit Cinderella that all this is transitory and falsely enjoyed. Her dream night comes crashing down on her. In a few more chimes of the clock she’s going to be transformed back into what she still sees as her true self – Cinderella the worthless servant girl. So she flees to avoid this being discovered. (Her primary need is a long way from being reached - to be loved, accepted, treated well – this need is brought about because of her lack of confidence – somehow she feels she deserves the treatment she’s getting)

The Second Half of Act Two.


In a mirror to the first half of act two, the second half of act two starts a series of escalating attempts to gain the primary goal/need. Remember the need is a term I am using to represent what the STORY need is – and what needs to deliver to the character to allow them to complete their journey, started by their choice in Act one. It may actually be something external that the character needs to attain.

These attempts may not even be initiated by the character - they may be unconscious trials that come into the character’s path. They may come from those around or from the character themselves who has finally learned from the journey we’ve seen so far, what is lacking, what they must really gain to achieve success. Or they may be discovering this need through trial error – when they make the right choice they get closer to what they ultimately need – when they choose badly it propels them from what they need.

And that success may be different from the success of the want. It may be the result of facing up to a flaw in their character and correcting it. The realization of what is truly needed may be a slow realization that is still forming and being grasped.

Oscar Schindler wanted to make money. By the end of the film he has become a far better man and his success is in these terms – spirituality, humanitarianism, compassion for others. These things now make him complete and make him a successful or righteous human being.

But these attempts to achieve an desired result end in the second half of the second act (and by the second act it is often an adjusted desire or new desire from the one that fuelled the first half of act two) start small and escalate – each one a bigger attempt or action than the one before.

In Liar Liar, Jim Carey’s character gives the bum a handout. It’s small, but it’s the first sign he’s on the path to finding his humanity through being empathetic and honest to the world and people around him. It’s a really good example of how the ‘attempt to gain the need’ may not be conscious on the character’s part. The character’s change is part of that character’s journey/attempt/discover or be educated as to what they need to do or achieve to gain the missing element and solve or gain what it was they set out to do in act one.

Even though Jim Carey’s character doesn’t consciously recognize it – we see or at least sense he is changing as a result of the experience he’s going through. He is on a journey to recognize the truth of who he really loves and needs in his life and what his lies have been doing to them. He eventually comes to fully understanding he’s become as a result of his habitual lying and selfishness of spirit and owns up to it.

So in Liar Liar it is a need in the character, to stop lying, that is required to be discovered by that character to deliver a happy story resolution – and we see it being learnt by the character even before he realizes it’s the missing element to solving his problems – “And the truth will set you free!” he cries to win his unwinnable case.

These attempts can fail or deliver small wins. Sometimes the character won’t see the results as win – because – as in Liar Liar – the character is still clinging to the want – desperate to lie his way through life and keep the world, through his lies, in his control and at arm’s length.

But through these attempts the character will change – and soon, as more attempts, challenges, examples of what is needed are experienced or chased by the character, they will come to know what they really need to do, or to gain, or what is missing, that is stopping them being complete.

The journey of the character has made them understand how or why they made, answered or gained from, or won a bigger prize and delivered them an understanding of, their choice way back in act one.

They committed to a change for a reason – even if they misunderstood their reason (Aiming for the superficial over the primary goal/need). But now they’ve worked it out. Good for them! Just one problem – it’s too late.

When the character comes to discover it is too late – that they’ve missed their opportunity to gain their higher primary goal/need, if plotted well – because they’ve sacrificed that opportunity in the quest for their superficial wants – then the emotional hangover kicks in. This self realization or consequence of actions – throws the journey into a complete stop. It’s called by many names – darkness of the soul, all is lost moment, death.


There are many different ways, within many different stories, to arrive at this moment – and you can already feel this incredibly simple structure straining to encompass even ‘most’ of the stories that it has tracked well this far. As you move along the structural model things get more complicated and there are more exceptions. This is because the story needs to dictate the structural model, not the model the story.

(You will have noticed to the midpoint things were simple and clear – then the explanations needed more variation – forward/back/increase/decrease/accelerate/slow – and past the midpoint this variation grows ever wider. And for me – the names given in the models try to cover all these variables and that is why I believe they have become difficult to grasp – by trying to label an event that actually gives the writer a great deal of scope and room to make a wide variety of choices. And because the label seems all encompassing – it is often misinterpreted by an inexperienced writer as being an accurate, well defined, definite point – not a sign post that defines only the spirit of the moment or the general intent.)

If this ‘all is lost’ moment comes about due to forces that are not the characters doing and he or they have fought a valiant fight, but simply lost against overwhelming odds, the story may dictate that there is not too much self flagellation – maybe a philosophical air is more appropriate or an attempt to be positive in defeat and a pledge to relocate and take those who managed to survive with them so they can all start again. If the failure was all the character’s own doing – then by all means, whip away.

Once again – every story is different and you should look to its variables and use your best, informed judgment as the writer to give the story what it needs. If you choose well the audience will be with you every time.

There is a reflection period after this realization of failure; a lull in action but not in emotion. It’s where the character/s will reassess and allow, recognize or of at least consider that the need not only exists, but it is their true goal and now – out of reach.

This ‘reflection’ or emotional low point can be placed just after the need is irredeemable or seemingly lost forever.

So the moment the character or circumstances have moved past a point where the need is attainable, that’s where this emotional still point exists. And there can be more than one – there may be a series of smaller moments spread out – your story will dictate.

This/these reflective moments, character ‘breathing’ moments, are where your character/s knows they’ve failed.

In pretty woman Vivian leaves a diamond necklace behind and leaves the hotel suite because she knows she needs to be loved, not rented or bought. She gives up on both her want and need by leaving. Those jewels represent everything she wanted for the first half of the film. Now they’re sacrificed – not for a chance at gaining true love – but genuinely sacrificed. The character walks away with nothing and expecting never to get anything by walking away.

Sticking with Julia, but now in Nottinghill – it is the moment she returns back to the bookshop and says – “I’m just a girl, asking a boy….” And Hugh says no – he really can’t be part of her circus of a life. Julia is crushed. Love is dead. The darkness of the soul moment begins. For her, a hollow press conference. For him, a wake style post mortem with his friends.
   
This lull after that ‘false end’ is the moment, the decision, the motivation or a well seeded and logical plot device is found to trigger a turning point that sets up and creates the possibility for the resolution and the move to leave act two and begin act three.

You may need a character reflection point straight after your midpoint. Imagine an explosion of emotional and physical energy – which your midpoint often is. Directly after this powerhouse moment – like any moment after great energy is expelled – characters may need to separate and calm down. To go over and consider what has just happened.



It is up to you what they reflect on. It is often the moment they first contemplate they’ve been after the wrong thing. They may begin to suspect, uncover or realise their primary need because of the midpoint. All of these things may need some calm retrospective space, time or discussion with trusted mentors/friends.

Then the character/s can test their theory and attempt to gain their need in the series of escalating attempts that mirror act one’s attempts to gain their superficial want. But by now they are after their primary need. (Again remembering want and need refer to broader concepts than an individual’s wants and needs – they may be far grander than personal wants and needs – to change an unjust society or save the world from catastrophe.)

You may have both the reflection moment after the midpoint and the all is lost moment that moves us towards whatever trigger the resolution, or whatever it is that ALLOWS the resolution to occur – the fulfilling of the need. You may decide your story doesn’t need both the reflection moment and the all is lost moment. Maybe it needs as series of smaller reflection moments after each attempt/trial towards the primary goal/need.


This reflection moment, or moments of the character/s and the final all is lost/defeat/death of hope moment can be skewed and placed at slightly different moments along the second half of the second act AS THE STORY DICTATES. Again, your judgment as a writer will decide and on that judgment you will be judged.

Once you have moved your characters through the journey of the second half of the second act and have them contemplating failure/accepting failure, then the final secure anchor of the three act structure occurs.

THE KEY TO RESOLUTION.

Your story has a reason for us to believe the characters can reverse the failure and find a resolution to their various dilemmas – if this is not the case, it’s a poorly thought out and planned story. (This story selection along with a great deal of ‘forward planning’ towards success, is what I will be covering in future posts)

In the sixth sense Dr Malcolm Crowe is dead. It’s so well plotted that we as an audience, on this reveal, can suddenly fit this riddle to everything we’ve seen and like Crowe we are the last to know. But now we and he do know – his path to resolution, to what he has to do to take care of those he loves and move on becomes clear, natural and easy.

The best screenplays play to their resolution from page one and if you ever needed a good reason to learn how to set up and plan your story from the blank page, before you write, then this is it.

The key to resolution moment, if well structured, should flows naturally and feel organic. A poorly planned story structure will rely to some degree on what is known as Duex Ex Machina – from the Greek meaning – ‘God made it happen’.

Duex Ex Machina is a device of some kind that magically turns up, out of the blue to offer a road to the resolution. It can be plot or character based and it reveals itself as illogical, forced, unmotivated or unseeded in what’s gone before.  

I see this most in procedural TV dramas where the criminal confesses the vital piece of information or confesses at the last minute. Every week in every episode it seems to happen and it makes a mockery of the millions in jail screaming still that they are innocent.

If your story is well told the answer as to why the character/s get a second chance at what they truly need to achieve/win/gain/complete, will flow, almost without thought. It will be logical, seem-less and no will ask questions about how or why it happened.


In the next few blogs I will detail many issues along the path of taking an idea from blank page to completed screenplay. This is where I will detail the process of selecting a story, understanding its structure and doing the work on the treatment before you begin in order to deliver an emotionally satisfying, well told story that flows towards a satisfactory resolution in act three.

Surprisingly to many, most of the work, certainly all the hard and frustrating work, occurs before you ever begin to write. Writing is, as it should be, the fun part – the joy!

As for the remaining structure – the resolution in structural model terms – it better be unique and original or at least a new slant on an old tale, otherwise it’s a generic re-hash of something that’s gone before. And as a unique and original story it will have its own resolution.

The best advice – tell your resolution well.

The second act on the basics of the structural model began to creak with multiple choices for reflections points and the moment of defeat/all is lost moment. To try and find a form that fits every stories resolution is next to impossible.

The best advice any predetermined model can give is to do justice to the story you’re telling. Leave us totally satisfied that everything has been covered and wanting more at the same time: more of the characters, more of their situation, more of their story. Listen to your story and tell it well. Then any audience will be disappointed to leave it, even once they’ve been satisfied that all the elements within the story have been answered or ended.

And if you can’t do your stories justice yet, don’t be impatient. Study the case studies, the extensive analysis of the many successful stories that have gone before. The great teachers and their teaching of structure have guided every good story teller I’ve ever met. It certainly is what I learnt and am still studying and learning from.

After a while, when you’re really understanding the theory and you no longer need to stop to think where you are on the model or what was said about how to set up a character or a coming turning point – when you no longer need to think about those things and yet, you still instinctively follow them – that’s when you’ll start making great and original decisions. And that’s when your work will become undeniable.
 
That’s my basic look at the three act structure – and while it seems I’ve come up short with very loose guidance towards the back end, especially past resolution and to the final fade out, my genuine belief is: act three, and a meaningful and satisfying resolution, comes out of each individual story.

Understand what you need to look at during story selection, your setup and the planning and detailing of your treatment and you should never have to stop and doubt your resolution – because you would never have started writing without knowing what it is and knowing how it works. That doesn’t mean it may not change or be improved, but at worst the original planned resolution will hold up and deliver a satisfying end to your story.

Remember: I am not advocating against detailed and complex models and analysis of a script. We the writers rely on ‘they’ the analysts/script editors to break down our structure when we write a script into a corner or when we get too close and lose objectivity.

We rely on it to improve a script and take it to that next level.

From their detailed analysis we can make our choices to solve the problems they have identified, they may even give structural choices we could take to solve those problems. And as we get better as writers and understanding structure fluently we may even be able to wear a script editor’s hat ourselves and break down our own structure objectively and analyze exactly the structure of our story to find its problems or do it for others.

But we should never have to follow decisions that an analyst makes about how to progress OUR story UNLESS – YOU, the writer, can feel the analyst and their structural breakdown has sought out and found the same story you’re trying to tell – often described as being on the same page.

It’s not the job of an analyst, a reviewer, a reader or a development executive to dictate from a pre-formed detailed structural formula, what should be changed in your story or where the story should go or how it should be told.

They can tell you it doesn’t work or offer advice on how to make YOUR story work – not theirs.

The trouble of course is that a writer without form, looking for their first break, has no power. It’s impossible to resist changes being forced on your story from a ‘zero power’ position – especially when the person pushing those changes has the carrot of a possible green light to production.

My advice: Suck it up and get produced. Cross your fingers the result isn’t bastardized to a point it ruins your reputation. (Who knows, it may go the other way – you may be in the hands of a development genius who makes you look brilliant.) Your first career objective as a writer is get some credits – then you can pick your battles – your first opportunity to get a credit isn’t the time to dig in your heels and make a stand.

But do be wary of any analyst who tells you where your story should go, especially if they seem to miss what you are aiming at in your story or if they haven’t spoken to you at length about your story and what it is you are trying to do with it. The danger is their suggestions will be their story based on your parameters.

Equally, be wary about trying to fit your story perfectly to a preformed, detailed structural model. This method will deliver you a sound script – but it is likely to be one everyone has seen before.  

Scott Norton Taylor - Inner City - Ebook for Kindle, Epub Sony, Palm or online!

Reviews: From Amazon

5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome read May 27, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This book was so intriguing I hardly put it down. Wonderfully written it does not linger on any 
one event nor does it speed through scenes making it a poor read. The characters were well 
thought out and the inner turmoils they all face are far from dull.

5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular April 5, 2013
By Jack
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
The book was simply amazing it had action romance and just enough drama to make me happy 
one of the best books I have ever read

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Posted December 1, 2012

 Great read.

A story filled with with love, hate, violence, peace and so much more. 538 pages of wondering what will happen 
next. A FULL story from start to finish. Thanks to the author for sharing a great work with the readers.

Posted July 8, 2012
 Couldn't put it down...
For this to have been a free book, it was wonderful. The author keeps you on the edge of your seat. I couldn't 
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Posted April 20, 2012

 Amazing

Perfectly written with great detail it was thought provoking and asked the fundemental question of would you 
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Posted April 5, 2012

 This book is AWESOME! it keeps you wanting to read the entire ti

This book is AWESOME! it keeps you wanting to read the entire time. It tells of 2 worlds, and both are 
extremely unique. One of the best books I've ever read!



1 comment:

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