This is an article I saw on my one of screenplay websites. The article was a promotion for a movie. I didn’t like the first film, will probably not see the second.
But this—unlike the “’legendary’ how-to-write-rackets” which will charge you thousands of dollars—is free from me to you. I deleted the references to the upcoming movie. You writers probably know this already, but the principles bear repeating. As applied to screenplays, so do the principles apply to stories and novels.
Let’s begin:
12 Powerful Principles of Story Structure
In addition to the overall structure of your screenplay – the three acts, the five key turning points, and the six stages, plot structure also involves employing as many structural principles, tools, and devices as you can throughout your script (or novel or story).
1. Every scene, event, and character must contribute to the protagonist’s outer motivations.
Pick any scene and either move the protagonist closer to his/her goal of protecting the people or society, move the protagonist closer to his/her desire to win the love of another important character, or create obstacles to those goals.
2. Make each hurdle and obstacle your protagonist faces greater than the previous ones.
The conflict in your story must build, becoming greater and greater as you drive the reader toward the climax.
3. Accelerate the pace of the story.
If your story has a futuristic, faraway setting (or any complex setting), your first Act should contain the narration of that before the pace needs to be accelerated and the conflict shifted into high gear. Act 2 should contain more action and Act 3 should shift into high gear.
Amplify the emotion by creating some conflict (and the anticipation of conflict) in each scene.
4. Create peaks and valleys to the emotion.
Intersperse big action sequences with quieter scenes with your protagonist interacting with other characters or learning something new.
These moments allow the viewers/readers to catch their breath and to begin anticipating the next big conflict. They also prevent the movie (or novel or story) from becoming one monotonous action sequence.
5. Create anticipation.
Viewers and readers want to try to guess what’s going to happen next — they just don’t want to be right all the time. And while surprises and confrontations are often brief, anticipation can be prolonged almost indefinitely.
6. Give the audience superior position.
This means providing the viewer and the reader with information that some of the characters don’t have yet.
Instances of superior position create anticipation of the conflict that will result when the information we have is revealed to the characters.
7. Surprise the viewer or reader.
Viewers or readers don’t want to anticipate everything that happens in your story. Sometimes you have to jump out and go “boo!” to keep them alert and involved.
This principle is even more important in a comedy, thriller or horror film, novel, or story where reversals create humor, shock, or fear.
8. Create curiosity.
Don’t explain everything in your script, novel, or story as soon as it happens. Viewers and readers love puzzles and relish figuring out who committed the murder, how the protagonist plans to overcome the conflict, or what a character’s true motives are.
9. Foreshadow your characters’ actions and abilities.
Foreshadowing is a term for adding credibility to your story by revealing information before it seems important, which prevents your story from seeming contrived or illogical.
Introduce facts before they become critical to the story. They all add credibility to the characters’ later actions.
10. Echo situations, objects, or dialogue to illustrate character growth and change.
Repetition allows the viewer or reader to compare where the protagonist is at any given moment in your story to where he/she was the last time we encountered that particular item or phrase.
11. Pose a Threat to One of the Characters.
Remember that this principle applies to all films, novels, or stories, not just adventures and thrillers. Always force your characters to put everything on the line in the face of losing whatever is important to them, whether it’s money, a job, a loved one, dignity, acceptance, or their own destiny.
12. Compress time.
The shorter the time span of your story, the easier it is to keep the audience involved. Or give a time span to do a decisive action, you have a ticking time clock after which disaster will hit. The end of “Alien” does this very well—you hear the ship announcing “You have ten minutes to evacuate.”
There you have it, my friends.
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