Note from Beth Barany: Let’s welcome back Kay Keppler for another month with Writer’s Fun Zone! In today’s article, Kay discusses 10 keys to plot structure. Enjoy!
When writers talk about plot and character, they often reference movies or TV shows. That’s because film provides a visual — an extra dimension that helps viewers understand the story.
Screenwriters have a lot less space than novelists to tell their stories (120 pages!), so they have to get right to it. Michael Hauge is a film doctor who crystalizes plot structure into key 10 elements that will help any writer, screen or otherwise. These are:
1. The first and best rule above all rules
What’s happening now must be more interesting than what just happened. The whole point of structure — of your entire story — is to elicit emotion in your reader. If your story is increasingly compelling as you move forward, you succeeded.
2. The goal is everything
Your story’s structure depends on its events and turning points, which spring from your hero’s goal — a clear, visible objective that she’s desperate to achieve. Ask yourself, “What does my hero want to achieve by the end of the story? Will readers root for her to reach that finish line?” Then apply scene questions: “What does my hero want in this scene? How do her actions in this scene move her closer to that overall desire?” If your honest answer is “I don’t know” or “They don’t,” then your story, not just your structure, is comatose, if not dead.
3. More, bigger, faster, badder
Structure is built on desire, but the emotion you elicit grows out of conflict. The more obstacles your hero must overcome, and the more impossible it seems that he’ll succeed, the more captivated your reader will be. The conflict must build: each successive problem, opponent, hurdle, weakness, fear, and setback must be greater than the one that preceded it.