Our brainstorming sessions generated piles of ideas, but they were scattered. We had content, but no form; meat but no skeleton.
Without [a] skeletal framework,” says David Trottier, author of the Screenwriter’s Bible, “your story content falls flat like a blob of jelly, incapable of forward movement.”
There’s no shortage of story structure advice for writers, on and offline. So which one should you choose? Here are three templates to get you started:
Blake Snyder, author of the popular screenwriting book Save the Cat!, breaks down the three-act structure into manageable chunks. His is largely considered one of the best plot structure templates available. His 15 plot points, or ‘beats,’ are posted here.
A literary agent offers a technical account on the common elements of the screenplay, even including a numerical breakdown by page.
Mr. Trottier suggests there are six critical events in virtually all dramas and comedies:
- Catalyst – upsets the balance and gives the character a desire, problem, need, goal, mission;
- Big event – changes central character’s life in a big way;
- Pinch – point of no return for the central character;
- Crisis – forces a crucial decision; often it is simply the low point in the story, the moment when all looks lost;
- Showdown – commonly called the climax, this is when the central character and opposition character square off;
- Realization – Just after the showdown, or during it, or before it, the audience realizes that the central character has grown, changed or figured something out.
Next he suggests writing the beginning, middle and end in three paragraphs. The first will end with the Big Event, paragraph two with the Crisis.
There are many ways to sculpt your story, but the truth is, most stories have several elements in common.
Sheetal and I chose Mr. Trottier’s template because a) I had purchased the book and b) his six-point approach made a lot of sense. And as paint-by-number as the process felt initially, we believed that any early frustration would we worth it if it meant avoiding writer’s block in the end.
My advice to aspiring screenwriter’s would be to find a structure that works, pick up some index cards (which we’ll discuss in an upcoming blog) and follow through. In the end, it’ll save you a lot of grief and help you tell a better story.