Tag Archives: story-structure

Star Wars Story Structure

A friend’s mom, who owns a flower company, needed extra drivers today because of their Mother’s Day weekend rush. I can drive, and I needed the money, so I sped around town all day bringing joy to mother’s everywhere via expensive dying plants.  Now that I’m home, all I want to do is catch up on Justified and go to bed.

I’m trying to write something everyday, whether that be my spec, novel, or a blog post. My brain doesn’t want to be creative, so I’m going to share something amazing.

Today, PART 2 of The Star Wars Beat Sheet was posted over at Save the Cat! and is a must read for anyone interested in Star Wars, screenwriting, or storytelling in general. Inside, Tom Reed gives a very perceptive breakdown of Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope which sheds a unique insight into the backbone of the movie that started it all.

“Break into Two” can just as easily be called “Choose Act Two,” and Luke does not choose to move forward until after he returns to Ben at minute 42:00.  This may seem late — 12 to 15 pages too late according to conventional thinking.  However, it’s important to remember that Luke’s story doesn’t begin until minute 17:00, and the script interval between 17:00 and 42:00 is exactly 25 pages;  the perfect length for Act I.]

Read PART 1 and PART 2 and follow Save the Cat! for even more great breakdowns, interviews, and articles.

Writing Act One of your Screenplay

It’s been 10 days since I started writing my 3rd screenplay.  My previous two screenplays were crap. Great ideas, but crappy execution. I learned a whole lot in the process and I’m hoping the knowledge gained will show in my current endeavor. Here is what my process has been like so far, and a breakdown of writing Act One:

BACK STORY and CHARACTERS: First, I wrote out a brief history of the world I was creating and filled it with people and places. Then I had a little debate over whether or not I was going to turn this into a screenplay or novel (I’m writing a screenplay, but I may revisit the novel idea later). After that, I made a list of my basic story beats and started to write. I finished Act One yesterday. Great right?  It’s amazing what you can do with your time when you’re not working. After getting over the brief period of “this is so awesome“, I realized there is a whole lot that needs to change before I move on to Act Two.

For this breakdown of writing Act One I am borrowing heavily from The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

OPENING IMAGE: Your opening image is supposed to set the tone, mood, and style of your screenplay from page 1. I think I’ve hit this pretty well.  My problem is, i’m not exactly sure if it’s a great snapshot of my character’s “before self”. According to Blake, a good opening image will always show a good “before snapshot”, where the final image will show a good “after snapshot”.  I think I’m going to revisit the opening image to better portray my character’s “before self.”

THEME: My theme needs some major work. Mostly because I have no clue what it is yet.  This one will take some story meditation on my part.  It is very possible I won’t discover my thematic premise until after I finish the complete first draft, but at least I know that I’m missing one. Every screenplay needs a theme.  I’m just the type of writer who isn’t drawn to writing by themes, or character arcs.  I’m drawn in by plots and action. The themes in my screenplays must be searched out. It’s a journey I must take in the writing process.

SET-UP: During the set-up, which usually takes place in the first 10-15 pages of a screenplay, I need to be able to do a lot of things.  I need to introduce my main character, and at least hint at every other character in my screenplay.  I also need to be able to portray everything in my character that needs to change by the end of the film.  I need to do this so that I can fix all those things by the end of my screenplay and form a great character arc. That’s a lot to do in 10 pages.

I’ve ALMOST introduced, or at least hinted at all of my characters in the first 10 pages…  Almost.  I really think I could tighten that up a little more though.  Also, I need to work on showing things in my character that need to change.  I’ve basically done none of that.  My character right now is awesome from page one.  He has no faults, or weaknesses.  BORING! After all, my screenplay is basically a “road movie”.  The WHOLE POINT of my story is for my character to have a giant life changing experience.

INCITING INCIDENT: My inciting incident happens on page 7. That’s too early, I believe. Yes, you’re thrown into the action right away, and you want to keep reading, but do you care? I haven’t even given you a reason to care about my character’s life, as it’s being spun into that crazy direction! I KNOW IT’S EXCITING, but you’re gonna run out of steam because you just. dont. care.

DEBATE: My character gets a letter that throws his life into a new kind of crazy. The Call to Adventure! Now, he needs to refuse the call.  There must be some reason why he can’t do it. He’s too scared.  He’s tied down with boring responsibilities.  This is the debate section.  My screenplay literally doesn’t have it.  Wait… yes it does!  In one line, “Go to The Wall?  Are you crazy!?  We can’t go to The Wall!  We just killed a Knight!”  …it makes total sense why he wouldn’t go the The Wall if you knew the story. DON’T YOU WANT TO READ IT! I know you do! But that’s all of his debate… and a couple seconds later he —

ACT TWO BREAK: DECIDES TO GO TO THE WALL! This would be my “Break into Two”, or what Tom Reed calls, my “Choose Act Two”. He refers to it as this because your hero must ALWAYS choose to go.  The decision must be made by the hero, or else… well, it’s just weak.  Why should I care if Frodo doesn’t CHOOSE to carry the ring? Why should I care if John McClaine doesn’t CHOOSE to save his wife?  At least I got that part right, but it’s still weak and needs a very CARNAL reason for the “Jump into Two”.  Like… his Aunt and Uncle were EFFING KILLED BY STORMTROOPERS and NOW he wants to go to Alderaan, or his son was EFFING SHOT BY A SADISTIC BRITISH OFFICER and NOW he wants to fight in the Colonial Militia! You catch my drift? Your character can’t just go. He must DECIDE to go.

Anyways, now I have a nice list of things to work on for the rest of this week.

Screenplay or Novel?

Note: No, this is not my map. It’s actually a map from The Lord of the Rings. My map looks like I laid a sheet of paper on the floor, taped pens to the legs of a chicken, and then chopped its head off.

It’s late. My head hurts from creating worlds and filling them with history, people, and places for the past 6 hours. The only food I’ve consumed all day is a large iced coffee and a Double-Double Animal-Style with Animal Fries from In-N-Out. I may have left Waffle House behind in Tennessee, but holy hell did I gain one kick-ass joint in California!

…at least I have the diet of a writer.

I wrote a short screenplay a while ago. It didn’t follow any sort of act structure.  It was just 10 pages of awesome action and cool characters. It was kind of a teaser, in that it ended with the hero receiving a letter.  I’ve sat on that short for over a year now, despite some positive reviews from my peers.

So the other day, after getting bored with the 2 other screenplays I’ve been trying to beat out, I finally came back to it.  I opened up Word and just started to write.  It turned out, that after a few hours, I had written a fairly detailed back story to the world my hero lived in. After that, I got inspired to draw a map of what I thought the land might look like.  In doing so, I had to create and name roads, villages, cities, a castle, a giant wall, a mountain range, and forests. Soon, I had a detailed map of my hero’s world, a ton of places for him to explore, and a pretty general history of the past few hundred years. It was all only about 5 pages of stuff… but I loved it!

From all of this came a flood of crazy ideas that I would love to see and write about in this newly created world.  So, I began making a huge list of things and ideas that don’t really make sense.  Stuff like: “rows of hanging corpses” and “a girl running through the woods” – just random shit like that.  After a little while, I figured out I was having a lot of fun doing all of this!

From there I started beating out my story.  When I got lost, I just looked at my map and my cool character list, and thought to myself, “How can I get my character to that place, and who can I have him meet along the way? He needs a love interest, right?” BANG!!  Another plot point down.

So today while I’m going through everything I’ve written down, a thought hits me, “I could start a fucking novel with all this material.”  But here’s the problem:  I don’t know shit about writing a novel.  I know how to write a screenplay. I’ve been studying how to write a screenplay  for the past 2 years.  But for some reason, the idea of writing a novel scares the crap out of me! I love reading fiction, so you would think I’d at least have an idea of how to write a novel, but I don’t.  Believe it or not, I don’t even trust in my ability to properly form sentences or spell words correctly (which you can probably tell from reading my blog).  So what do I do?

I could definitely form a screenplay around this story.  But there is so much detail I would like to explore in my hero’s world.  Should I just start a novel? I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and I love reading them, but the prospect just scares me.  Do I write it in 3rd person?  1st person?  Ugh.

I don’t know the answer to this question yet. I just needed to write it all down to help organize my thoughts.

I did find this article by John August.

Any writers out there been through/going through this internal struggle?

Just Read: The Brigands of Rattleborge

The Brigands of Rattleborge

written by S. Craig Zahler
Draft Dated 2006

Set in the days of the old West, a sheriff and a doctor seek revenge against three ruthless thugs who robbed them and terrorized the town.

I haven’t written a script review in a while, so I am finally going to write up what I thought about The Brigands of Rattleborge by S. Craig Zahler.

This is a very popular script. Many people love this script. Being so well received, I was very excited to sit down with a nice cup of coffee and take some time out of my precious day to read this popular lovable script. I don’t necessarily regret that decision, I think something can be learned from every script I read, but I have absolutely no idea why so many people enjoyed this script.  After I read this script I literally said out loud, “What the fuck did I just read!”.  I was even more perplexed after going online and finding out that everyone enjoyed the shit out of it.  Either I am alone in my dissatisfaction or people who don’t like this script simply don’t share their views online.

Just like my previous reviews, I will not go through the entire story and bore you with all the plot details, I will simply make a list touching on what I did and did not like.

The Good.

  • The writing in this script is absolutely phenomenal. Zahler’s ability at describing the characters and the world around them is extraordinary. I felt like I was reading a novel. If there is one reason to read this script it would be for the writing.
  • It’s very easy to make darkness and violence cheesy and laughable. This is a dark story, it’s a violent story, but the grit is written well and comes across as intended. If you don’t want a detailed description of a head being blown apart — don’t read this script.

The Bad.

  • Way to much exposition.  Seriously. What the fuck.  It takes 60 pages just to set up this story.  I’m still being introduced to new characters half way through the script and I literally have no idea what is going on. Who are all these people? Why do I need to know every person in this town? WHY AM I 60 PAGES INTO THIS SCRIPT AND THERE IS NO PLOT?! I don’t know how people got through half of this script before saying, “Well that’s neat… but what the hell is going on?” There was really nothing driving me to keep reading. You know that movie Open Range? Kevin Costner’s Western? Yes. Remember how the entire movie was super slow and boring until the very end when we have one of the most epic gun fights in movie history? That is kind of how this script is.  Except the gunfight at the end isn’t as good.
  • Who is the main character? We are introduced to so many people I had no idea who to invest my time in. Who should I care about? Who do I want to root for? For almost the entire script I had no idea who the main character was. This is bad… and the Doctor guy?  Am I supposed to care about him when I only learn who he is near the very end of the script? He could have been killed and I could have cared less.
  • I personally thought the very end of the script was dumb. I’m not going to give it away, but it came across very weak to me. That was it? Really? After 137 pages that is what you give me as a resolution? Come on.

The Verdict

I think I would love this script if you took the first 60 pages and crammed it down into 25 pages. That would be amazing.  Also, introduce a main character and let the audience know it’s the main character so that we actually have someone to care about. Introduce the doctor earlier as well. We are given intimate details on so many characters and none of them actually matter.  When the inciting incident doesn’t take place until half way through the script you have a problem. Make the storm happen around page 30. That would be amazing as well. Then you can spend the rest of the movie following around the two main characters and their quest to kill the bad guys. Now that sounds like a good script.  Maybe bring the Indians we meet at the beginning of the script back into the mix. We see them at the beginning and then never hear from them again.

I say READ IT. You’ll probably like it just like everyone else. I obviously have serious problems with it.

I bet many of my concerns with the script will be addressed in production. I doubt the actual movie will follow the obscure structure of this 2006 draft.

Just google this script and you will find a .pdf link to it.  Like I said, It’s very popular.

It’s All About Story Structure

Student and independent film makers, more often than not,  have an annoying unrelenting ability to make films without plot. I’ve never really understood it. In fact, it drives me crazy!  Being in film school at the moment I see this happen all the time.  The worse part is that these film makers seem to not even notice that their films are sometimes downright hard to get through. Yes, making a film is hard. Yes, that dolly shot was beautiful. Yes, you really did a good job pulling some great emotion out of those actors. Wow, that location was great! Very artistic cinematography!  Holy shit! You did a sweet crane shot!

BUT WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!? There is absolutely nothing going on in your story to keep me watching.

I talk about this now because I happened to read a great article by John August that you can read right now HERE.

No. Really. Read it. Now.

Read the script Buried. I did a small review on it a while back. The entire script takes place in a coffin. ONE LOCATION. ONE ACTOR. Yet you keep reading because it is full of story, conflict, and questions that you want answered!

When all is said and done, your crane shot doesn’t matter, your witty metaphorical dialogue doesn’t matter, your million dollar location doesn’t matter. Not even your actors matter more than the ability to tell a clear and concise story that keeps your viewers intrigued and watching. Story is the backbone of any successful film.

Story, Story, Story.

The Screenwriter’s Board

I got five whole pages done this weekend on Christopher Stone. I think I am going to write an article soon on finding the time to write. Hopefully I will learn some things.

Today I am going to talk to you about The Board — and how it is awesome.

In developing Christopher Stone I decided to set up a screenwriters board for the first time.  I have always wanted to do this, and it’s a lot of fun. Screenwriters boards come in all shapes and sizes, but basically perform the same function.  They are tangible forms of your story and how it is structured. Some boards are small and use post-it notes, some are bigger and use index cards. Some boards are on a wall, others are on a flat surface. I personally enjoy using colored index cards and a cork board. For now I will assume you know what index cards are as they relate to screenwriting. I may write an article on index cards later.

First go out and buy your board!  Figure out what size and type you want. I got a cork board for $15 at Walmart. Once you have your board, divide it into 4 sections using tape or a marker. Top row is act one, 2nd row is first half of act 2 ending at the midpoint, 3rd row is 2nd half of act 2 ending at the act 3 break, and last row is act 3. From here you simply take your index cards and put them up on the board. You should end with around 9-11 cards per row. Each card represents a scene, or sequence of scenes, such as CAR CHASE.  I use colored index cards. In the picture above I have BLUE cards as main story, RED cards as action, PURPLE cards as B-story, and GREEN cards as C-story. This really helps me visually see the flow of the story and improve on my pacing. You can use whatever colors you want, or no colors at all.

I find the board extremely helpful. Look at the end of act 3 in the picture. There is a big  hole in my story, and I know this because it is literally right in front of my face. The board really lets you know where your story is light or heavy. Another great thing about the board is how you can switch index cards around at will.  Changing the sequence of scenes has never been so easy! If you want, you can take all the cards down and bring them with you. Shuffling them around and improving on them during class, church, or the bar. The board is also a great way to procrastinate before actually writing. I have procrastination down to an art form. In the end the board means nothing… but I think it greatly helps the writing process.