May 12, 2014

The Story of Story: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Structure

cageIt is a truism that, "we tell ourselves stories in order to live." But, it is remarkable what a human characteristic the drive for narrative is. What purpose does it serve? No matter, it's pretty much like the opposable thumb at this point, and we've been telling stories since we learned how to communicate; the weirdest thing, perhaps, is that the experiences of everyone who has ever lived and died in the history of the world are both altogether unique and so similar that we can have stories to begin with; to a degree, then, we all must live the same story (that's deep.) And the way we've been telling stories in the West still owes much to the work of Aristotle. We've shared a rundown of the evolution of narrative, its study, and how both can help you become a more successful screenwriter, so continue on to find out more. 

The Greeks

If you're any sort of creative writer, you've no doubt heard the dictum, "Show, don't tell." Familiar as this piece of advice is to the screenwriter, it was, shockingly, not coined by Syd Field. Aristotle, writing about Sophocles and his tragedies in the fourth century B.C.E., (specifically Oedipus Rex, which contained one of drama's most famous twists, and which Aristotle considered a perfect work of drama) put it that:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions.

Even before Rome, it was already established that the only acceptable story was one full of dramatization, the acting out of a situation unto its solution, without the situation being explicitly stated (that is, no one can say, "Man, it is sure rough being on this Planet of the Apes." They have to see the Statue of Liberty.) To wit:

Aristotle elucidated the principle that by seeing a tragic situation acted out on stage through, "Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle," and "Melody," the audience would undergo a "purging," the literal meaning of katharsis; seeing a dramatic situation aroused emotions of terror and pity, which, in a successful tragedy, would be relieved by a satisfactory conclusion; therefore, tragedy was beneficial to the audience. To get a little ahead of ourselves, the famous Freytag Triangle of the 19th century is essentially an illustration of these principles:

Beyond a beginning, middle and end, Aristotle required unity of action (that is, a self-contained narrative, with each event leading causally to the next) and no deus ex machina to save the day, hence denying the audience catharsis. The same is true today: think of all the movies you've seen where the ending comes about because of some arbitrary coincidence that is just too easy.

freytag

Everything Old is New

With the fall of the Roman empire, the Roman Catholic Church took control gradually in Europe, and they were not big theater fans, opting instead for telling Biblical stories, either didactic tales of the lives of the Saints, or so-called Passion Plays, focusing on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In their own way, even these "non-drama dramas" fulfilled the narrative patterns we'll look at in a second. With the Renaissance, Aristotle's ideas were "rediscovered," along with many other Hellenistic works and Roman works, a goodly number of which had been, ironically, preserved by Catholic Monks, who copied out the ancient documents by hand; many of Shakespeare's plays were reimaginings of these stories, and Aristotle's writings became the foundation for modern drama, though around this time there started a trend towards a more "naturalistic" form of storytelling. Today, the goal of a drama, and especially a movie, is to immerse the audience to the point where they forget they're watching a story at all. Doing away with togas was probably a good first step.

Tragedy and Comedy

Today, there are probably millions of pages that have been written just on the subject of narrative, and  roughly 728 of those pages are in The Seven Basic Plots (required reading for any screenwriter, or writer of any narrative form, for that matter). A survey of narrative from around the world, from Gilgamesh to Crocodile Dundee, the British scholar Christopher Booker talks about a pattern that he noticed in every story from nearly every culture around the world. This pattern was, of course, explained by Aristotle, and will also answer anyone who has been asking, "Yeah, yeah. But what about the laffs?"

Well, in Aristotle's view (and for the record, he just happens to be the most famous source that survives; I am in no way implying a superiority in his work, or that I have a poster of him on my wall that I high-five every day), while tragedy is concerned with catastrophe (literally, a "down-stroke"), comedies are about situations where complications increase in the form of misunderstandings, threatening to keep characters apart (generally two well-matched lovers), creating a seemingly insoluble "knot" of complications. Eventually there is the peripeteia, or "reversal of fortune," which leads to what the French came to call the denouement, which means, literally, an "unknotting." And that, in its simplest and most reductive form, is comedy.

Story Structure and Archetypes

Booker holds that the division between these two stories covers more than just comedy and tragedy, but all types of narrative. He discusses the archetypal plot of "overcoming the monster," and how it rules over genres as diverse as Westerns, War stories, and Thrillers. The commonality is that all these stories are governed by a pattern, which Booker illustrates operating in everything from Ian Fleming's Bond novels to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, as well as acting as the basic structure of Shakespearean tragedy. The pattern is no doubt familiar to anyone who has read Joseph Campbell, Blake Snyder, Robert McKee, or any of the countless screenwriting gurus (though it should be noted that Campbell wasn't a screenwriting guru, at least not by profession or choice.)

The Pattern:

  • Anticipation: The hero is in some way incomplete or unfulfilled, and when something presents itself, they find their energies focused on a course of action.
  • Dream Stage: The hero becomes committed to their course of action (Booker cites examples like Faust signing a deal with the devil, or Humbert Humbert in Lolita causing the death of the mother of Lolita, allowing him access to the young girl. At this stage, things seem to go improbably well -- the hero can do no wrong, it seems.
  • Frustration Stage: Almost imperceptibly, things begin to go wrong; a sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety emerges, along with a "shadow figure" who may appear; the hero may also be compelled into further acts which get them in deeper to their situation.
  • Nightmare Stage: Events slipping out of control; mounting despair; forces aligning against the hero.
  • Destruction/Death Wish Stage: Either by forces they have aroused, or some final act of apocalyptic violence, the hero is destroyed.

Booker puts it that under this giant umbrella sit all the different varieties of story, and writers are able to endlessly manipulate their stories by beginning at different stages, or using any of the almost infinite permutations possible within this general blueprint. For instance, much modern storytelling tends to begin at the Frustration Stage, though there are plenty of narratives (Star Wars is frequently the example given) that start right at the top of the structure.

It should always be noted, too, that a screenplay is unlike any other type of literature. According to Robert McKee, "Never write a line of dialogue when you can create a visual expression." But a visual expression of, say, disillusionment, is a both subtle and tricky thing to pull off, and part of the reason why excellent screenplays are so few and far between. Make no mistake: it is hard to write a movie, and it is almost impossible to write a good one (as every screenwriter can attest.)

Booker's pattern can be seen, in one form or another, in everything from Syd Field's seminal works, to Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet, and Robert McKee's complex patterns. All these approach story as a problem, a person through whom we experience that problem, its complications which lead to reverberations and an eventual solution, whether happy or sad, or sometimes both.

There is even software, like Dramatica, which, by applying complicated narrative equations, can take a series of questions (a lot of questions, actually) and turn out a story that the creators maintain will contain all of the elements of a successful story. According to Dramatica, and radically simplified here, a successful story is a combination of 4 ways of seeing the story mind, expressed via values found in nearly endless combinations of story values (if you're completely lost, anyone not familiar with Dramatica should be warned that it is rumored to take months of intensive study to fully grasp their system.) For some writers, this is antithetical to creativity, yet others swear by it:

In the end, all roads lead to the screen. Every screenwriter is looking to tell their story, and every story is about a character who needs to overcome obstacles -- whether they are actually successful at doing that in the end is up to the storyteller.

What do you think? Do you subscribe to any theory of narrative, or do you think it's all hogwash? Do any structures help you to plot the events of  your story, or do you rely on your subconscious for inspiration? Finally, we're all here to improve at our craft, so if you have any tips or methods you'd care to share, let us know in the comments!

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34 Comments

Just wanted to thank you for this article, very good read! I like these structure theories, but i think they only make up a part of the screenplay. you still have to write interesting characters and dialogue, which are a bit more important in my point of view. But then again you have to put all your creative output in some kind of form, where i think these theories come in....

May 12, 2014 at 9:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Al

Contemporary cinema and a sophisticated audience that understands cinema language has altered the rules of structure. Movies can be structured like novels tossing old tired 3 act structures cliches with sequences.
Structuring with sequences can liberate a filmmaker who understand that cinema evolves.
Scorsese long a proponent of getting his writers to work in sequences allows his films to be more than just about the story. "why are we using the term 'acts" when the damn thing is a movie?"
Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty is about a novelist and structured like an epic novel in breadth and scale.
The sooner classical Greek tragedy 3 act structure is shredded and consigned to movie history trashcan the better they can be.

May 12, 2014 at 9:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

Sure, but the revolutionaries almost always become the regime, i.e., someone would just write a book about sequences and then that would be that, and we'd be talking about the tyranny of that in a few years.. I think the smartest thing anyone can do if they want to make money as a writer is to write a book about how to write.

May 12, 2014 at 12:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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One book that is as basic as the hills is Lajos Egris's The Art of Dramatic writing, maybe the 1st primer for the screenwriter, written in the 40's for dramatists. The sub-line is "Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives". Egri's chapter on Character or Plot is essential reading.

May 12, 2014 at 12:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

Yeah that's actually a really good one, I think because it's so focused on one fundamental issue common to all stories. I should reread that.

May 12, 2014 at 1:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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I was about to mention Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty when I saw that you beat me to it! Brilliant Film. Best of 2013 hands down for me! Maybe even best of the last decade.

May 12, 2014 at 3:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jeff G

What a breath of fresh air, seeing an article that really digs into the spine of it! You're a witty writer (loved the bit about high-fiving Aristotle) and, after clicking your name, turns out many of my favorite articles on this site were written by you. Keep it up!

In terms of the importance of structure, it's interesting... I'm currently reading "On Writing" by Stephen King, and, at least as far as I'm into it, he claims he does not plot his books. Rather- he thinks of characters in unique situations and then cranks out 2000 words a day to see where it goes.

Recently, I got into a dispute with someone whom I was trying to develop a story with. They came up with these great characters and an interesting situation- but everything they'd offer in terms of plot was backstory. None of it was actual *story*. I think the missing ingredient is that each character needs to have a strong goal (not just *desire* but an actual goal- like something they are going to try and achieve that can be at least somewhat measured in terms of whether they succeeded or not). Seems like an obvious, simple thing- and in simple stories it can be, but I think it's an eye opener when we think of it in terms of stories like Lost or Friends.

I am a huge fan of McKee... I don't think everything he says is prophecy, but I think he really hit on an essential truth when he talks about the need for values changing and efforts to achieve those changes. It seems like Stephen King's characters have this so much at their core, I think maybe he just forgot to describe that (i.e. it's not just characters in situations- it's *motivated* characters in situations)

Thanks for the great topic!

May 12, 2014 at 9:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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writers often confuse 'goal" with a 'task'. A simple task is more intriguing as it gives the protagonist something to do to achieve his goal. I just watched the Coen brothers Inside Llewyn Davis who task is to return a cat while figuring out his career as a folk singer.

May 12, 2014 at 9:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

Hey, thanks! That's very nice of you to say, I sincerely appreciate it. Um, yeah, love that book, and King has also said that he has no idea where his stories come from, but that his muse is a cigar smoking guy who sits around and that he is its servant, and he shows up at his desk every day because the muse has him on the clock, and he's the one who supplies the magic, as it were (King's muse is a working stiff, just like any writer should be. I write fiction, and quite frankly I pay zero attention to structure); it shows up, sure, but I don't know from where. But I will say that I've written a ton of screenplays and they were all bad, or flawed in some fatal way. Don't know why. Maybe I was thinking too hard, or not hard enough, or I'm not visual. But writing is hard, and the only way to do anything, and King is right about this, is just show up and do it, and also use vigorous, active tense language without a ton of adjectives and adverbs doing the work you should be doing. Anyway, thanks again, man. Much appreciated.

May 12, 2014 at 11:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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Sorry, active voice, not tense.

May 12, 2014 at 12:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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As a film studies student at University, we study the form of narrative. The most common way to break down and analyse a narrative comes from a Franco-Bulgarian named Tzvetan Todorov. His theory of narrative analysis works for 99% of Hollywood films with the other one percent comprised of films that play with the Chronology of events, like Gaspar Noe's Irreversible or Christopher Nolan's Memento.
His narrative analysis works like this.
Stage 1 - Equillibrium.
This section of the film sets up the protagonists 'normality'. For example, in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange we learn that Alex is a violent, disenfranchised youth who enjoys to commit rape and ultra-violence. Thus, his 'Equillibrium' is established.
Stage 2 - Disruption
Something happens to the protagonist to change his equillibrium. Using A Clockwork Orange again, Alex is put into prison.
Stage 3 - 'The Search'
This is the section of the film that takes up the most time. This is where the protagonist must 'train', either mentally or physically to overcome the disruption. Using Sam Raimi's Spiderman, Spiderman loses a battle to the Green Goblin. He must now train to, eventually, best him. This is also the section of the film that features the most amount of un-important elements (Or, as Hitchcock said 'MacGuffin'). For example, in Joss Whedon's Avengers, Iron Man; Captain America and Thor don't have to have a fight to progress the narrative, they do it as a time-filler.
Stage 4 - Resolution
After the protagonist has completed his training, he bests whatever it was that caused the 'Disruption'. For example, in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice kills Buffalo Bill, thus destroying the element that brought about the 'Disruption' to her 'Equillibrium'.
Stage 5 - New Equillibrium
After the resolution, normality is restored to the protagonist's lives although it is not the same normality it was at the start of the feature. They, often, have become better people or have learnt something valuable along the way. For example, in Adam McKay's Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgundy, Ron has got his job back as a News Anchor (his normality restored) but he has learnt to be inclusive of people that are different than him and to respect other people.
Of course, Todorov also made a point of talking about Prologue's and Epilogue's but they are simply loosely connected scene's that are usually put in place to provide an instant hook or resolution for the audience.
By applying Todorov's structure to my writing, it is much easier and more focused to tell a story. Although, without much effort, it is easy for your stories/features to become generic, Todorov's structure allows you to play around with the rules and create something more unique.

Thank you for reading, I hope this helped.

May 12, 2014 at 9:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rhys Stacey

This would be theory over methodology. A theory by an essayist based on no real practical understanding of cinema is in my opinion bunk. While I am a huge admirer of McKee who follows these exact principles he devotes only one chapter to method. David's comment about Kings "On Writing" and why it is a superior manual to writing shows how he writes and keeps writing.
Stay away from academia and read really good screenplays, it's that simple.

May 12, 2014 at 10:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

Wait, didn't anyone who went to filmschool study this? Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing the article, which is great, but this was kind of Filmmaking 101 back at my college and this article is making me wonder if that school wasn't as bad as I though it was.

May 12, 2014 at 10:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Raphael Wood

The site is called no film school, so we're assuming that people didn't go to film school. Pretty much.

May 12, 2014 at 11:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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A (slightly) different medium but I saw a long interview with Larry David (on Kevin Pollack's show) and Larry's idea of a "show about nothing" (an actual Warren Littlefield remark about the "Chinese Restaurant" episode) was based on his and Jerry's talking and making fun of the every day things and behavior patterns. That was the early "Seinfeld". Then, as he realized that he had four stars, and not just two stars and two supporting actors, he began to write stories for four people and went "180 degrees away from his original "no story" structure premise" to where everything was story driven.
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Watching "Seinfeld" as a fan, I liked the early meandering stories more than the latter episodes with their 20 one-minute scenes. I will, however, admit, that their best episodes had a traditional story structure of the "premise => complications => plot twist => resolution" with the episodes like "The Outing", "The Limo", "The Keys I and II", "The Bris" and especially the Emmy winning "The Fix-Up". Not accidentally, all of the above were written by Larry Charles, a director of the Sacha Baron Cohen comedies a decade later.
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PS. And the morale of the story is that there are different, often theoretically opposing, ways to write a script. As I had mentioned before, the original "Godfather" edit left it with a horrible story structure while Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" is essentially a series of dramatic sketches. Mel Brooks's greatest comedies and greatest hits - "The Producers", "Blazing Saddles", "Young Frankenstein" - were the same, except the comedic content was the driving actor.

PPS. I saw a headline of the "Neighbors" review that called the movie "one long skit". But it's a skit with a $50M opening weekend (on an $18M budget too)

May 12, 2014 at 10:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Hey Guys,

I wrote the above and I'd just like to add an addendum here of sorts; this is a very basic breakdown of simple story structure for those who are not really familiar with everything out there. And if you watch a Kubrick film, or a Scorsese film, they are determined largely by an internal logic, and actually prove Booker's point; Raging Bull could be broken down into component parts just as easily as he breaks down Dostoevsky's 'The Devils.' I think where people get caught up is the idea that if they don't have x on page 7, they're cooked. Maybe for some scripts, and some producers, but those books are out there, and you have your pick Booker takes a more holistic approach, and looks at literature, sagas, myths, STORY in general, not just screenwriting. Slavish adherence to the hero's journey has made a lot of people a lot of money, and produced a lot of schlock, but Hollywood has always been a kind of casino, so people want a system for counting cards. Also, a point that I was trying to, and maybe failed to make, was that it's pretty much all one big story, and everyone is just putting their spin on it, cf. Blake Snyder's "whiff of death" moment, along with the contrasting midpoint and all is lost beats (and I think Snyder was a great, friendly writer, who didn't have any pretension, and honestly wanted to tell the stories he loved.) Ditto McKee's +/- change system. I think the biggest challenge for screenwriters is, A) Many don't have much training in other forms of fiction writing, and to any objections to the need for that I would only say that one should know as much as possible about any subject to which they intend to devote themselves to mastering, B) The myth of the 'perfect' structure is a myth, and will lead to formulaic dross unless there's something there, i.e., a cool story, with characters and heart or wild anti-structure that is its own matrix, or whatever the case may be; C) Technique can be taught, and should be, in terms of writing the script in good, vigorous and active sentences but D) Take a look at your favorite films and count how many follow traditional structure, how many subvert it, and how many disregard it altogether (and I know that most gurus claim they can shoehorn ANY film into their schema, and I guess they can, sure, but remember when Pulp Fiction came out and then suddenly every spec script was a chronologically inverted story of criminals who talked about The Flintstones while shooting people? That movie had a really pernicious influence on writers who didn't stop to consider whether or not they had anything to add to what Quentin Tarantino had pretty much said already, and then moved on from, (though yes his obsessions stay the same, he has never made Pulp Fiction II. I pity the readers who had to deal with a million Vincent Vegas and Jules clones walking the earth, discussing Archie Bunker on the way to rob a Bingo game. Good story is a mystery, that's why it's great, and like anything in life worth doing, there is no blueprint. Good work comes from intelligent risk made by informed writers and artists. That said, if you take the most broad, general principles and work from there, then you at least have a fighting chance, and it's important to know, as a beginner, I think, that you are not hidebound to "sex on 60" or some other silly rule, unless you are trying to make that kind of comedy, in which case, more power to you I love those movies sometimes. But you can't eat birthday cake every day, and there should be an acknowledgement that all the ingredients in the grocery store will make you food, not just butter and eggs and milk and this is a food metaphor that is going nowhere. But thanks for reading guys I was up to the wee hours so it's good to know someone actually reads and gets something from my blathering. You guys are great. Thanks. J

May 12, 2014 at 11:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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Haha ... one of my read scripts had a comment that I only got into my plot two thirds of the way through. My reply was, "Jane, you ignorant slut" (a slight embellishment). That wasn't the story itself but the second complication".
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Aside of the scripts themselves, NFS might do a story on "readers" also. I know Chris did one a couple of years ago but, as the "gatekeepers", one basically writes to please them.

May 12, 2014 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

It was a great read, Justin. Really enjoyed it.

May 13, 2014 at 7:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tim

Thanks, Tim!

May 15, 2014 at 9:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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Regarding plot structures, I think it's good to know a bit about the subject and then "forget" it. The only thing that I think about consciously is the idea--that comes up in some theories--that the hero has a penultimate victory that makes him stronger (escapes from bad guy's grasp), but that's not the ending. Building on this success he accomplishes a final victory (finds bad guy and puts him in jail; returns the earth to normal). I find that even in more or less realistic little shorts, this can give a sense of ending. Not one victory but two. I started trying this technique in this script, if you can bear to watch a really roughly made short: https://vimeo.com/47733031 Now when I have a story that doesn't feel "ended", I try to structure it into a "penultimate then ultimate" victory, even if the victories are really subtle.

May 12, 2014 at 1:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tom

comments here are just great! As informative as the article! So nice to read this discussion. thanks Justin for this awesome article! Lots of info.

May 12, 2014 at 1:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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alex mand

Great article. Thanks for writing.

May 12, 2014 at 2:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kevin H.

Thanks, guys!

May 12, 2014 at 10:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin Morrow
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I've decided to be suspicious of screenwriting gurus who have not written artistically and financially successful screenplays. Sadly that discounts pretty much all of them.

May 13, 2014 at 2:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Astigfa

I wouldn't go that far. Structure rules can be fairly rigid unless you're a big time writer-director type and can adjust/edit them as you see fit. Most aspiring writers, IMO, write from the heart and often lose track of these rules.
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On the other hand, how do you write good dialog? IIRC, McKee had a few bits on it but there the rules are basically non-existent. One can write grammatically correct sentences like they were written in the 1930's-1960's. Or one can go to street patois of the post-70's era. To use the example of "Seinfeld" again, I remember that, when the show started, a lot of people used to ridicule its dialog as "fake casual". Reading sitcom scripts from that era, it certainly stood out from "Murphy Brown" and "Cheers". But Larry David did have the last laugh ... as it were.

May 13, 2014 at 4:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I think it's healthy to be a little skeptical. The two things I'd consider on the other side though are:

1) At it's heart, a good story is a creative endeavor- it needs artistry as well as craftsmanship. The gurus can teach the craftsmanship, but not the artistry, because that stuff comes from life experience and imagination.

2) There are many fields where a teacher cannot *do*, yet we accept their more complete knowledge just fine. Most great sports coaches couldn't play the game professionally, but they understood it thoroughly and could harness the talents of others- we understand it would be foolish for a player to ignore their coach simply because they've never played. There's plenty of examples in the corporate world of university graduates who became upper/middle management without ever actually been the managed workers and things like that. It's actually a pretty common setup, we're just more skeptical about screenwriting because there's more mystery involved around it and we fear the unknown. That applies to anything...

3) It's possible that they simply don't have a desire to write stories, just like many writers simply don't have a desire to teach classes. If they don't really have that itch to see their own completed work, and are making enough money as story doctors etc., it makes sense they'd just do what they enjoy doing and getting paid for it. Do I understand that? no, not really, but it's a possibility. I'm a bit more skeptical of the "gurus" who did write screenplays, and they were bad.

4) The important thing to ask oneself is- "does it make sense to me"? I'm highly skeptical of formulas which say, like a certain thing has to happen by page 22. I'm not into that at all and it seems like snake oil to me personally. But when they say things like, conflict should be born out of each character's honest desires... that just strikes me as good truthful knowledge that is worth learning.

May 14, 2014 at 5:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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OK, before others point it out- I made a bunch of mistakes there (2 != 4, it's != its, etc.) but I wrote it out quickly. Be gentle ;)

May 14, 2014 at 5:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I think we deserve better. Field, Snyder, McKee.... Not a decent screenplay between them. I know a successful screenwritingcoach who has never written a good screenplay and I'm sure he laughs his way to the bank. Mamet wrote an okay booklet on directing and while he's not much of a film director he did have a writing credit on 'The Untouchables' which I consider to be a good film.

I get what you're saying about sport coaches and I believe there's some merit to that. But the present state of screenwriting instruction is shameful and mostly formulaic. There are talented, successful screenwriters out there. One of them should write a book or offer a seminar.

May 14, 2014 at 11:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Astigfa

I hear you. Probably the best online resource by a successful screenwriter (Terry Rossio- Aladdin, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.) is http://www.wordplayer.com/. Strangely enough, it falls into the same phenomena of being horribly neglected... despite being tough to navigate, it's actually difficult to *read* because they've set the width to be so narrow.

This is definitely a field that needs much more love from established writers.

May 15, 2014 at 1:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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If you're going to include feature animation I have to recommend this excellent discussion of cinematography in Pixar's 'The Incredibles'. This piece, found on floobynooby.blogspot.com is VERY long and is divided into 3 sections. It has its share of typos and grammatical errors, but it is the best education on visual storytelling I've ever encountered.

http://floobynooby.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-cinematography-of-incredible...

May 15, 2014 at 9:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Astigfa

Unbelievable! An article about Dramatica that isn't a rant about its complexity!! I'm totally shocked and relieved (and heartened) to hear something positive said about it. Your summary of it is pretty decent too--I know what you're trying to get at by saying "4 ways to look at the story mind" -- that's not entirely accurate but its good enough for a paragraph description!

Going to have to remember this one. Thanks again for an intelligent discussion regarding the value of structure in narrative!

May 19, 2014 at 8:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jim

400g caster sugar to cups

June 17, 2014 at 11:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hi Justin, really nice article. I wrote a similar article on my blog and made a simple animation to illustrate the elements of Classical Narratives.Below is the link. Please let me know what you think of it. Thanks.
http://waadeekrax.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/elements-of-a-classical-narra...

July 12, 2014 at 1:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hello,
This is a very interesting read. In my opinion I believe it is a simple equation that makes a film/writing a work of remembrance in the audience/readers mind and ie;
'Complex characters dealing with simple situations or Simple characters dealing with complex situations.'
Again this is my opinion, I mean if you take 'The Imitation Game' a complex character 'Alan Turning' dealing with life's simple situations... Or 'Home Alone' a simple boy left home alone on Christmas. These are plots that interest you and stick with you. From here of course you need structure and this is where you get it repetitive with every other storytelling structure in the world but people don't care because you are telling interesting plots always or another hobby in the movies is to constantly be guessing the upcoming plots on what's going to happen next, where you close or did the skillful storyteller keep you guessing. Structure here in story telling I guess will always remain the same but what gets people will be how complex can you get your characters going or how complex you get your situations going... I guess that's the way you don't complex it for the audience. But you do have storytellers that break from these conventions and you end up saying... 'Man... I didn't get it...' or 'Art house move' or 'mind bending movie...', 'you were never meant to understand...' Haha...
Thank you for the article and thank you for letting me share...

April 19, 2015 at 3:54PM

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Isac Thomas
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