Structure. We all know it, we all do it... Don't we?
Well actually, structure is probably the most talked-about element of screenwriting since it's probably the element that is most maligned, misunderstood and misused. Certainly it's the element that I write most about in my coverage for private clients in particular, but also in reports for writing initiatives, funding cos and indies in terms of whether a script is "ready" or not for development (the usual assertion being that, if a structure is bad - or as my favourite non-technical term goes, "lumpy" - it isn't).
So, here are the first of my seven posts on structure: what it is, why it's useful, how you can approach it, what constitutes good/bad/indifferent... The list is endless as to how we can tackles this. And it needs tackling. I get a whole heap of questions on this from my Bang2writers and there are so many interpretations, assertions, implications and whatnot, that I feel it would be a really useful exercise to get some thoughts together, in one place, about it - otherwise we could all be going round in circles forever more. But first I'm going to talk about preference and structure.
It's not secret that I am a Three Act Girl. It makes the most sense to me. You got your Set Up, Conflict and Resolution - a beginning, middle and end if you will. You then have your two turning points, one at the end of Act One, the other at the beginning of the Resolution, kicking off the run-up to that all-important ending. Then you have the midpoint - which is, unsuprisingly in the middle and (usually) heralds that moment your protagonist makes a momentous decision or act and stuff starts to change - either for good or ill, towards an "explosion" metaphorical or literal. Pretty simple stuff.
To me. But not to everyone. I read for Lizzy some time ago who says, "I just don't get The Three Act Structure. It's so big, it's daunting."
Anya says, "We don't look at life holistically, we look at it sequentially, so why can't you utilise that whilst constructing your narrative? There has to be some use in that?"
Or we have Eat My Shorts who says, "Subplots help balance out your main plot - you're always going on about the power struggle thing vs. the monsters in PITCH BLACK - so where the hell does that go on your Three Act Structure??"
And as we know there are plenty of alternatives to The Three Acts. Whilst I see them only as a re-imagination of those initial Three Acts, others see them quite differently - as a complete and whole set of NEW rules in their own right. And if it works, why not? Surely all we want here is a coherent story - that is all that counts? Or is it?
We've heard so much about "structure is good/bad, useful/useless..." What about those questions that surely go through all our heads when sitting down and composing our stories, those like those posed above but also--
Which version do you use? Why?
Do these "alternatives" muddy the waters even more?
Do they offer false hopes to scribes when the industry only ever talks about those Three Acts?
Are five acts something only Shakespeare ever did successfully?
What about commercial breaks in TV scripts -- do they affect your structure? Should they, especially in spec pilots?
Why is it some writers put thought into structure only to be told their structure is bad, meandering or lacks pace?
Why have say, 22 Steps when you can have much fewer? On the flipside, why have less when you can have more?
And is bad structure the main reason why scribes are unable to tell that "coherent" story and why there are so many scripts doing "the rounds" that will only ever be unsuccessful no matter how many times they are read?
Over to you...