Story at a Glance

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

magic sometimes.


And honestly,

sometimes it is.

It's lightning in

a bottle.

Balance scalemetronome decorationBut 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.

Image of balance rocks

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.

Scene Length

Sample of scene length section

Characters in Scene

Characters in Scene illustration

Scene Heading

Sample of scene heading info

Scene Action

Scene Action illustration

Scene Purpose

Scene Purpose illustration

Plot Line Changes illustration
Flashbacks/forwards and Voiceovers illustration


Plot Line Changes

Set-ups & Pay-offs

Flashbacks & forwards


Set-ups/Payoffs illustration

And because I'm a macro data nerd...

Cropped image of statistics page of Story at a Glance story breakdown

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...

Test the water.

Download a FREE partial breakdown of JAWS.

Image of scene-by-scene breakdown

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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.