Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Fall in Love with Story Structure!

Yeah, yeah, I know. Some writers freeze at the very word, “structure.” But it’s the easiest, fastest way I know to easier, faster, and more salable writing.

So in this Nanowrimo/NO Nano series, of all my Top Tricks to Get Yourself Writing Again, my Trick #1 is:

                                                          Fall in Love with Story Structure

I’m not ever going to try to talk anyone out of being a pantser. But your muse will not drop dead if you learn something about plotting. Even a die hard pantser will find incredible shortcuts and writing boosters in story structure. And to those of you already hyperventilating at the word “structure,” let me assure you—you already KNOW this. I swear. You just need someone to break it down for you with examples that will mean something to you, and teach you the words.

That’s why, book or script, I teach structure by analyzing popular movies and using lots of examples that you’ve already seen. Plus, watching movies—even just parts of movies— is something you can do almost every day. You can do it when you’re depressed, you can do it while you’re cleaning, you can do it when you’re caring for an ill loved one, you can do it if you’ve got the kids all day (Pixar movies are some of the best teaching movies!), you can do it even when you have no desire to do anything at all. And it is the absolute bottom line basis of what I teach in my books, and workshops, and blogs.

If you commit some hours NOW to learning how to analyze film story structure, then you truly can practice story by osmosis and grow as a writer every single time the TV is on, which for many of us is every day, too many hours a day.

Don’t you want that?

Any movie that you already know well is a good choice. One that seems similar to what you are writing or want to write is a good choice. I always say make a Master List first. (Read here).

And if you’re new to consciously analyzing story structure, I urge you to do it with a movie that a screenwriter who has really worked with this stuff can talk you through. Take one of the movies I break down beat by beat in either Stealing Hollywood or Writing Love, or one of the movie breakdowns that I send you when you sign up for my free Story Structure Extras List. (Or just cut to the chase and sign up for my class!)
And then go through the movie sequence by sequence, reading my notes before each fifteen-minute sequence, then watching the sequence, then stopping at the end of the sequence to reread my notes, and make your own notes. Proceed through the movie one sequence at a time.

Do that two or three times if you’re inspired to – make this movie your “teaching movie”, as Michael Connelly calls it.

     > After one screening, you have vastly expanded your understanding of story structure.

     > After two screenings, another whole level of structure will be revealing itself.

     > After three screenings, your mind will feel like it’s been blown open and you will be rabid to do it with another movie, and then another, and then another.

And you know what? It’s perfectly okay to stop “writing” completely and do just a month of THIS, with three or four movies, even. I really wish more writers would just trust themselves to do this. Because this is IS writing.

After that month, you will come back to your own book or script with a level of mastery unlike anything you’ve experienced before. And still have time to do Thanksgiving dinner and holiday shopping! 

  • Alex