Screenwriters of FilmSchool.org

What story structure do you follow, if any?

hi, everyone! thought i'd get another conversation going here :)

what story structure do you tend to follow? the 8 sequence approach, the hero's journey, etc.? or do you just see where your story takes you?

i personally tend to follow the 8 sequence approach whether i realize i'm doing it or not (i've had it drilled into me so much over the years). if i start writing without being conscious of the story's structure and get writer's block halfway in, i will always refer to the 8 sequence approach to figure out what to do. i don't believe it's the be-all-end-all of storytelling, but it's an excellent thing to keep in mind if you ever feel stuck in your story.

also, how do you all feel about outlining before writing? i've found that plotting out my scripts before starting to actually write them makes it so much easier in the long run, because any major issues can be addressed well before completing a first draft. i used to absolutely despise plotting the story out first, and i still do kinda hate it because i always change something when i start the script, but it makes the writing process so much smoother overall.
 

alanray

Active Member
Yeah I try to basically incorporate every freaking structure I’ve ever learned into one: the three act structure, 8 sequences, desire line, hero’s journey, etc. Which is a pain in the ass but helps so much with structure and complexity. 8 sequences sure helps a lot. I also hate plotting my script out because it’s fucking hard to do, especially when I don’t know all the directions it’s gonna go, but I agree it really does help out big time in the long run. At least gets a first draft going
 

alanray

Active Member
What's that? I don't remember that one.
A story told through eight sequences. Each sequence with its own smaller conflict that contributes to the greater narrative conflict. Each sequence usually has defining characteristics (the status quo, the debate with the call to action and eventual lock in into the story, dealing with the new world, midpoint, climax, test of character revelation, etc). Just an easier way to structure stories. Some long scale epics can have 16 sequences
 

Cdemon

Active Member
Yeah I try to basically incorporate every freaking structure I’ve ever learned into one: the three act structure, 8 sequences, desire line, hero’s journey, etc. Which is a pain in the ass but helps so much with structure and complexity. 8 sequences sure helps a lot. I also hate plotting my script out because it’s fucking hard to do, especially when I don’t know all the directions it’s gonna go, but I agree it really does help out big time in the long run. At least gets a first draft going
What’s “desire line”? Is it the basic what your character wants/needs? Lol I think I’m more basic than you all. Look at the basic three act structure making sure that the story holds water and looking at the emotion and relationships of the story. I do the snowplow thing a bunch. Outline- re-outline etc and go. Ok maybe similar- I have less words or names for the things I do. Outline, make sure the story is solid, write- that’s me. Then find all the things wrong and rewrite. Rinse and repeat.
 

alanray

Active Member
What’s “desire line”? Is it the basic what your character wants/needs? Lol I think I’m more basic than you all. Look at the basic three act structure making sure that the story holds water and looking at the emotion and relationships of the story. I do the snowplow thing a bunch. Outline- re-outline etc and go. Ok maybe similar- I have less words or names for the things I do. Outline, make sure the story is solid, write- that’s me. Then find all the things wrong and rewrite. Rinse and repeat.
Desire line is like the thing your protagonist is striving for in the whole film, whether physical or abstract. Often not what they actually need, but contrary, They want it more and more through the film, as obstacles continue to impede them of it. It juxtaposes with a theme line that is constantly being tested simultaneously.

Yeah all of these different structures can be a lot- but no one has to use them. I'm def a believer in there being no one way to write a great screenplay. Don't feel pressured to have to utilize them haha. Great writing isn't just something you can learn in a guide, although having some background knowledge in structures can be a helpful tool. But even in using the tools, one never has to follow all the rules. You learn them so you know how to break them well.

What's the snowplow thing?
 

JEC

Member
No structure, no outline, no beats, no nothing. I usually work off a single image, idea or character and then write cold until the story feels complete. Rewriting takes a lot longer. If I don't know where the story's going as I write it, I figure the audience won't know, either.

My work draws a...varied response.
 

Cdemon

Active Member
Desire line is like the thing your protagonist is striving for in the whole film, whether physical or abstract. Often not what they actually need, but contrary, They want it more and more through the film, as obstacles continue to impede them of it. It juxtaposes with a theme line that is constantly being tested simultaneously.

Yeah all of these different structures can be a lot- but no one has to use them. I'm def a believer in there being no one way to write a great screenplay. Don't feel pressured to have to utilize them haha. Great writing isn't just something you can learn in a guide, although having some background knowledge in structures can be a helpful tool. But even in using the tools, one never has to follow all the rules. You learn them so you know how to break them well.

What's the snowplow thing?
Cool- yeah so desire line is what I think of as want- what they want is what they’re going for what they need is what will actually make their life better etc. there’s so much jargon sometimes. It’s cool to hear different things as I’ve mostly been talking with people who come from my same basic background (I did the prof program at UCLA).

Snowplow is- once you have your idea- you grab a stack of notecards or a notebooks- whatever your pref is, then you set a timer for an hour and for one hour you jot down scene after scene of what happens without stopping so even if something never occurred to you before or your certain it’s wrong you jot it down and if lines come to you from the scene or whatever you write that down too- as detailed as you want to be but not actually writing the script, and if you get to a part where you don’t know- you just write idk but something goes here and go on to the next thing that comes to you. At the hour you stop take a break and then you can go back to it if you aren’t through the full feature/tv episode yet. And then you do that more time later. And you look through the scenes and find more of your story also things thatvsurprise you that can be awesome- and things you disregard cause it doesn’t actually jive with your story. It’s kinda like a timed free write of story beats/scenes. And when you do it subsequent times, for scenes you already know well you don’t spend as much time on them just a quick “the murder scene” if you already know- though if a new cool thought occurs you throw that down too. I like it. It frees me up and really helps the story take over and finds more in act 2 (or 3&4 in tv) that often has more issues or not enough story. :)
 

Cdemon

Active Member
No structure, no outline, no beats, no nothing. I usually work off a single image, idea or character and then write cold until the story feels complete. Rewriting takes a lot longer. If I don't know where the story's going as I write it, I figure the audience won't know, either.

My work draws a...varied response.
I’ve done this some esp in earlier works and shorter pieces. Lately I’ve been really outlining. But I have one I’m working on where I’m just exploring characters and plan to do this with for a free experience for myself.
 

alanray

Active Member
Cool- yeah so desire line is what I think of as want- what they want is what they’re going for what they need is what will actually make their life better etc. there’s so much jargon sometimes. It’s cool to hear different things as I’ve mostly been talking with people who come from my same basic background (I did the prof program at UCLA).

Snowplow is- once you have your idea- you grab a stack of notecards or a notebooks- whatever your pref is, then you set a timer for an hour and for one hour you jot down scene after scene of what happens without stopping so even if something never occurred to you before or your certain it’s wrong you jot it down and if lines come to you from the scene or whatever you write that down too- as detailed as you want to be but not actually writing the script, and if you get to a part where you don’t know- you just write idk but something goes here and go on to the next thing that comes to you. At the hour you stop take a break and then you can go back to it if you aren’t through the full feature/tv episode yet. And then you do that more time later. And you look through the scenes and find more of your story also things thatvsurprise you that can be awesome- and things you disregard cause it doesn’t actually jive with your story. It’s kinda like a timed free write of story beats/scenes. And when you do it subsequent times, for scenes you already know well you don’t spend as much time on them just a quick “the murder scene” if you already know- though if a new cool thought occurs you throw that down too. I like it. It frees me up and really helps the story take over and finds more in act 2 (or 3&4 in tv) that often has more issues or not enough story. :)
Oh wow, I've never heard of this strategy lol. That's really interesting. Maybe something I'll try out down the line 👍 thanks for sharing! And yeah, there is so much jargon...
 

Septopus7

Moderator
Staff member
Supporting Member
No structure, no outline, no beats, no nothing. I usually work off a single image, idea or character and then write cold until the story feels complete. Rewriting takes a lot longer. If I don't know where the story's going as I write it, I figure the audience won't know, either.

My work draws a...varied response.
I mean, this, kinda. Although I usually do have a vague notion of the story I'm telling, and where I'm going when I start, but I usually don't spend a lot of time outlining it. I just...write as it comes. As I've called it in the past, the Michael Scott approach:

1248

I'm not gonna say it's the best approach or anything, and it's probably one of the main reasons I don't really tackle anything super long-form (that and time, really -- which I hope grad school will rectify!) But it is how I've written things for about ever, so I'm stubborn to change my ways. Like this comment even. I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't really plan how I would say it. Just typing until it feels right. Is it a good method, or does it create something overlong and messy?

You decide.
 

JEC

Member
It also depends on what you're writing. If I was writing taut heist movies or political epics, I'd be much more inclined to outline. Since my scripts are more character-driven, visual, low-key...I think it's in my best interest to stay loose and open to new ideas as they come. I used to write with outlines and hit beats and my work suffered. Our brains are all different, our work is different...I wouldn't get hung up on the process as long as you're productive and you feel that your work keeps getting better.
 

Septopus7

Moderator
Staff member
Supporting Member
It also depends on what you're writing. If I was writing taut heist movies or political epics, I'd be much more inclined to outline. Since my scripts are more character-driven, visual, low-key...I think it's in my best interest to stay loose and open to new ideas as they come. I used to write with outlines and hit beats and my work suffered. Our brains are all different, our work is different...I wouldn't get hung up on the process as long as you're productive and you feel that your work keeps getting better.
Even if I see the value in outlining things, I do generally dislike the practice of "beats," especially the Save the Cat variety (hey, not sure if you guys know this, but I'm rather unimpressed with that book!) They are too specific and narrow minded for my taste. I'm not going to pretend that stories shouldn't have structure, or even that those structures aren't rather easily defined. But once you get in the weeds wondering where to put in Beat 8: Fun and Games or whatever the fuck, then I feel like it's almost taking the fun out of everything.

Just write the damn thing.
 
Even if I see the value in outlining things, I do generally dislike the practice of "beats," especially the Save the Cat variety (hey, not sure if you guys know this, but I'm rather unimpressed with that book!) They are too specific and narrow minded for my taste. I'm not going to pretend that stories shouldn't have structure, or even that those structures aren't rather easily defined. But once you get in the weeds wondering where to put in Beat 8: Fun and Games or whatever the fuck, then I feel like it's almost taking the fun out of everything.

Just write the damn thing.
that’s my viewpoint exactly! no need to struggle to follow an exact structure, just be sure your story makes sense overall and doesn’t drag on or cut short. structure/planning help fix these issues (among others), but if you can’t figure out where to put a “mentor” character or something specific like that, you probably don’t need it. and it will feel forced if you do add it! i’ve read many scripts that have aspects of different structures forced into them, and it’s always obvious the writer was given bad advice they can’t let go of.
 

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