Monday, October 24, 2011

Introduction to Professional Creative Writing, Part 2: Story Structure

Goodness, where does the time go? You let things slip away for a day and soon the whole week has left.

Oh, well.

Shall we get back to this?

Today, I have some links (once again, predominantly from Writing Excuses) to share that discuss story structure. This ranges from basic, three-act systems to more complex considerations of why we use structure.

So, without further dawdling, some links:

We're getting into more of the practical side of writing. Some nuts and bolts and actual examples.

First, the requisite collection of Writing Excuses links:

Writing Excuses - Season 6, Episode 20: Endings with Lou Anders
Writing Excuses - Season 6, Episode 18: The Hollywood Formula with Lou Anders
Writing Excuses - Season 6, Episode 10: Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E Quotient

Writing Excuses - Season 5, Episode 29: Rewriting

Writing Excuses - Season 4, Episode 19: Discovery Writing
Writing Excuses - Season 4, Episode 6: Pacing with James Dashner

Writing Excuses - Season 3, Episode 20: Plot- vs. Character-Driven Fiction
Writing Excuses - Season 3, Episode 12: Subplots
Writing Excuses - Season 3, Episode 6: Dramatic Breaks

Writing Excuses - Season 2, Episode 8: The Three-Act Structure with Bob Defendi
Writing Excuses - Season 2, Episode 7: Using Writing Formulas with Bob Defendi
Writing Excuses - Season 2, Episode 6: Endings

Writing Excuses - Season 1, Episode 10: Pacing

And now, for something (mostly) different.

Over the weekend, I encountered a presentation that Dan Wells (yes, from Writing Excuses) gave at Life, the Universe, and Everything Conference at BYU last year about story structure. It's a fantastically clear and succinct explanation of how story structure works (with examples!)

Video can be found through his website here: How to Build a Story (Now on Video!)
Some additional notes on the structure explained above: Notes on the 7-Point System
A more-or-less text version of the presentation: Star Trek, the Matrix, and Story Structure

Okay, that's what I've got for right now. I'll try to add some more as I find them.

UPDATE! (26 October 2011)

So, I think I've mentioned Blake Snyder's excellent book on screenwriting called Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need (no, seriously, that's what it's called; and he isn't joking). Within the pages of this delightfully lighthearted little book is a simple, yet effective tool for basic story structure. It's called...

The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet

I want to share this with you because it really is both simple and effective. It's the basic formula that most successful Hollywood films start from in their story pacing (or should, at least). Yes, writer, you may groan at such structures as "formulaic" or "restrictive" or "predictable" and all manner of other things. But you know what? It works. Clearly. And you have to -- I mean HAVE to -- master the basic rules before you can know how to break them effectively. (Side note: Anyone can break rules; only the best can break them well.)

So, without further rambling (and without making you go out and buy the book itself), I present you with the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet: the simplest way to comprehensively understand the three-act structure.

Save the Cat! Online
This is Blake Snyder's official website. Sadly, he passed away in 2009, but his site still has a wealth of useful information and products. It's not the simplest or most direct way to learn the beat sheet, but I figured I should give credit where credit is due.

Now, for the useful stuff.

Tim Stout -- Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet
A very basic overview of what each of the beats mean. This is just definitions, no pacing notes or formulas. Simply an overview of what's on the sheet, and what it all means.

Lights, Camera, Action! -- Quick Lesson: Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet
Gideon's Screenwriting Tips -- Save the Snyder: The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet of Structure
Getting a bit more involved now. These two are near-identical rundowns of the sheet in full. They have slightly different wording in their explanation of various pieces of the sheet, which is why I included them both. If one explanation doesn't work for you, try the other and see if it makes more sense.

Screenwriting Paradigms -- Three Acts or What?
This is a more in-depth discussion of the three-act structure. It explores three different ways to define and measure the elements of a three-act structure, including Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet, Syd Field's approach, and the Hero's Journey. Highly concise resource for effectively covering three important methods and philosophies of story structure.

Writer Wrench -- Blake Snyder Beat Sheet Examples
And now for something a bit different (again). This isn't an explanation of the beat sheet so much as it is a collection of examples that show how to apply the beat sheet to popular movies. It really is an effective way to see how such influential and groundbreaking (not to mention well-written) movies have so closely stuck to this structure. See, people, it works! :)
Anyways, take a look at the site above for those examples, as well as information about alternative methods of story structure, once you feel you've mastered the beat sheet.

I'm finished. Probably could have made this an entirely different post, but I promised I'd collect the story structure stuff here, so that's what I'm doing.

Until next time...
-josh k.

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