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Creating a Structure

Page history last edited by Steve 11 years, 2 months ago




Map out the general emotional arc.


Tim [Minear] used the term emotional arc in contrast to plot moves, as in, he was interested in the characters' emotional beats more than fancy plots and mysteries. He was not so much interested in the details of the plot, and when someone brought up an intricate plot idea, Tim would say, "That could be interesting, but it doesn't matter. What's the emotion underlying the moves?" Following the characters' emotions was more important than "Well, what happens next? How does Angel manage to beat the baddie?"





To write drama, ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? Right now? (Same with comedy, actually.)


‘Never be afraid to increase the adversity’. Adversity forces people to be creative, it makes them stand up for what they really want, to say what they value and what’s worth fighting for … and adversity makes you feel like you’ve earned survival or success.

Plus, adversity creates a situation. Stories need conflict; focusing on the right conflict at the right time creates a throughline for your story.


I like my Act 1 turning points to represent an utter failure for the heroes.






A Stake is a question that we are emotionally invested in learning the answer to. For instance, "Will Peter survive?" While there are stakes for the overall movie, they are most immediately applicable on a scene and sequence level.* The answer to the Stake is provided by the Conflict.


Scenes that I like tend to have a Conflict in them. You can represent this with the formula, "[something] versus [something]". Typically there will be at least two people in a scene, with each of them representing one side of the versus. At some point during the scene, you that the writer will make a choice for one side or the other. This is similar to what Robert McKee calls the Turning Point in his book Story. This choice will set up the stakes for the next scene.



Incoming Stake - Will Peter kill the suspect?

Conflict - Peter's respect for the Law versus Peter's certainty of the suspect needs to be punished.

Resolution - Peter lets the suspect live.

New Stake - What will Peter do with the suspect?


Importantly, I believe that both sides of the Conflict should represent aspects of your story's Premise. For example, all Conflicts in The Limit deal with The Law versus Vigilantism.**


So, each scene has a Stake and a Conflict.

The "versus" of the Conflict provides a choice that needs to be made.

The results of that choice also answer the question of the Stakes (and set up a new Stake).


* Have to expand on the relationship between these macro- and micro-Stakes at some stage.

** The Premise is your story's underlying theme or message. Really, it's a moral. It says if you do [something], it will lead to [something]. For instance, 'Greed leads to loneliness'. The idea of the Premise is expanded on much more clearly in The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.






The last line of a scene is the most important line. The last line can clearly prime the audience for what they should expect to see next. In other words, the last line can set the Stakes for the next scene.

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