How do films like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark keep us glued to our seats the way they do?
How do Avengers films juggle so many different characters and storylines so well?
How do films like The Prestige make their flashbacks and forwards feel so natural?
It can seem like
sometimes it is.
It's lightning in
But a lot of it isn't. A lot of it is conscious design—purposeful balance and rhythm—by the storytellers.
Which is damn good news for folks like you and me who aren't William Goldman, the Coen Brothers, or Aaron Sorkin.
It's also why I believed that if I approached a film analytically, I could learn something of why it works so well.
Not a magical formula I could discover and apply to any story idea. That doesn't exist. Every story has its own perfect structure, determined by its unique needs as defined by the storyteller.
No, I just hoped to get an idea of the structure—the introduction, size, content, and arrangement of all its parts—that resulted not just in my favorite films, but among the most successful of all time, both commercially and critically, across a variety of genres.
As an aspiring screenwriter, I also wanted to break them down from that perspective—defining scenes by how I'd expect to write them in a script, as well as noting their function in the story:
What's changed by the end of the scene?
What new information have we learned?
What's been set in motion?
How has the scene advanced the story?
I did that by breaking them down nine ways to Sunday.
Characters in Scene
Plot Line Changes
Set-ups & Pay-offs
Flashbacks & forwards
Then one day it hit me:
If these help me, they might help you, too.
But we all work differently.
SO—if you're still not sure these are something that'll help you...
Need More Tools?
There you'll find some likely unfamiliar sources for screenwriting and storytelling tips and wisdom that helped me most learn how to find the stories in my ideas. You'll also find a selection of what I feel are among the best current screenwriting advice slingers and sites.
And if you're really hard up for ways to procrastinate, you can always check out my thoughts on writing, storytelling, occasional advice, news, and other tangentially related flotsam.