On Screenwriting – Part 1 – Structure

Sculpture Bronze Figure Aristotle

For Tom. Play by these rules and your screenplays will always be top class.

There are two key watchwords with screenwriting: economy and structure. Structure is the bedrock of any good screenplay, and there are several you can choose from. The classic is the three act structure (read Aristotle’s Poetics and Sid Field’s Screenplay or Robert McKee’s Story). Within that there are useful guides that can help; Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat is useful, if a bit overused these days. Todd Klick’s Something Startling Happens is also very useful, particularly for editing. Chris Soth’s six act structure is also fun, but ultimately it’s a subset of the three act structure.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the three act structure is passé. It worked in Aristotle’s time and it still works now. It creates a nice emotional arc and paces the story well. The second act is normally twice as long as the first and the third. Be careful not to rush into the second act before you’ve properly set things up in the first.

A good story starts at an end and ends at a new beginning.

Tomorrow – Writing the damn thing!