13 Nov AUTUMN NEWSLETTER – STORY STRUCTURE
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* STORY STRUCTURE
* TASTY LINKS
It has been damp for months. I am human compost. I am rotting from the soles of my shoes upwards. It’s raining again. Autumn; not with the usual blistering display of colours, but I live in hope.
Here is my non-soggy, water retentive writerly newsletter for all writers fighting the gloom of persistent wet.
The Net is awash (more water) with advice on story structure.
There are very specific, prescriptive, formulaic ways of making sure you have the per-requisite amount of drama in your scripts and there are rules for 25 minute episodic television drama, half hour Sit Coms, television drama hours and feature film length scripts. If you are a rule hound, there will be something for you within the omnipotent reach of the Internet.
However, I have a confession to make. I don’t do rules. Not prescriptive ones. I am not one of those script consultant types who set out their stall selling ‘This Way or No Way’ theories on how to make your screenplays work.
I just have a lot of experience doing this. For real. Against deadlines and within budget. And for some of this time, I was giving up smoking as well. There’s pressure. Forget what your inciting incident is; who’s got a Silk Cut?
Flippancy aside, there is a true art in structuring a story properly. It’s a lot to do with instinct, and a fair amount to do with natural flair, and a big dollop of experience and then there’s the craft stuff. The stuff you learn as you go along.
There are basic rules to shaping any story, but if you are a writer, chances are, you already know them – innately.
My take on the knotty problem of story structure is that you will already have a strong idea of how to structure your story in the moment you first think of the idea. There will be a natural shape or approach to the story telling part of your idea, that will have presented itself.
Playing with the structure of a story is both creatively liberating and at the same time, restricting; as all structure gives shape and therefore boundaries within which your story and your characters are free to move about.
Story telling is all about perfect communication. Getting the structure right of your script; ensuring it supports the story you really want to tell; will guarantee your audience will follow you every step of the way.
The three act structure is most commonly used. The Beginning, the Middle and the End. It’s an obvious shape; the set up, the exploration and the resolution. But what you do with this simple three act structure is up to you.
You can sub-divide these three basic sections; you can stretch or shrink any component of this shape.
Your story may best suit a bigger build up; more sub acts within the first act for instance.
Your narrative may depend on a longer middle act; you may want to give your story more development time here; there may be a multi-stranded narrative in need of stretching in this middle, (now fat) act of your script.
The third act; the tie up, may be little more than a epilogue. This is ok. More than ok if your story has dictated this shape.
The key to all story structure problems is at the base root, simple; and the root of story creation begins with a question; what is the natural shape of the story you want to tell?
Does your story depend on flashback, do you feel the need to use montage? V/O is useful here or not?
Does the time line of your narrative (and by narrative I mean the writer choices you make to tell the story dramatically) have a linear pattern? Chronological, straight?
Does your time line flip backwards and forwards; in a non-linear pattern?
Do you have an ensemble group of characters who’s storylines work in tandem with each other?
Or does this group of characters have separate storylines that run parallel with each other and cross against each other?
Does your script have a protagonist who has a linear storyline; but told backwards; entirely in flashback?
These are exciting, variable questions and all of them relevant to the process of getting your story straight (or otherwise) on the page.
Knowledge of structure is essential to all good writing. But prescriptive formulas are to my mind, alarming and cut out the creative process.
Television writing more than any other discipline, demands a respect for and a working knowledge of structure and the rules inherent within it. But (and I speak as a television drama producer with years of experience in making long running serialised television) no-one wants a writer who delivers to formula.
Producers want original voices. Writers who can keep their end up in a highly competitive market by proving they can write slick, structured, polished work to deadline and with a personal flair all of their own.
A little of what I have mentioned here is taken to a dizzy height by the staggeringly clear and very insightful Linda Aaronson. Here is her website. http://www.lindaaronson.com/
Linda has given names to some of the examples of different story structure I mention; if it helps to name the decisions you make in your natural writing day, I would recommend both this site and Linda. There are few to match her.
Writers often work out their structural problems themselves. Draft by draft. If a story is sticking; if the script is now painful to write, if the narrative is not flowing, then you know there is something wrong with the basic structure. If you are lucky enough to have a script editor working with you, or a professional like myself reading for you, then you will find the impurities in your story structure may be flushed out between you.
A good script editor + writer = potent team.
If you are a writer and also tend to script edit yourself as you go along, please I urge you, gag the script editor in you and get the script writ. Then go back and script edit.
Do not worry about formula. Ask yourself – ‘what shape does my story need to be?’
Then work it out from there. If you get stuck; ask me.
THE LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL: Here, the website for what is now the biggest UK film and tv festival dedicated to all things writing related. I have had the pleasure of speaking at their sister forum, the London Breakfast Club and ran a popular session dedicated to storytelling in series and serials. Get your ticket here for next year. Pricey. But great exposure and a challenging, enjoyable experience for writers at all levels. http://www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com/
ROPE OF SILICON: a great site where you download the 2014 Oscar nominated scripts http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/2014-oscar-screenplays-download-midnight-frozen-rush-past/
LA SCREENWRITER: another site dedicated to downloadable scripts – this time, tv pilots from the US
TV WRITING: dedicated to television in UK and US; downloadable scripts for your reference. https://sites.google.com/site/tvwriting/
I hope I can help you with your writing; be it a television script, short or full length film or screen play, treatment or outline, novel or radio play, I read and script edit them all and can definitely help improve yours. Drop me an email@ Yvonne.firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get working!
BYE FOR NOW AND HAPPY WRITING!
YVONNE GRACE OCTOBER 2013